Brewing on the Edge of the World: Canada's Arctic - Part I

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The view of town from above the graveyard ....

NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part article. The second part can be found here: Brewing on the Edge of the World: Canada's Arctic - Part II
I'm a fairly new member here. I thought I'd never have something interesting enough to put into an article, then somebody suggested I do one up on brewing in the north. At first, I didn't think there'd be enough content to cover a full article. But as I thought about it, I thought of more sub-topics that could go into such an article. Part I of this article will not cover my brewing practices, but rather the factors that affect my brewing. The environment you have plays a huge role in how your brews turn out, how long they last, and how much you put into it. This is my environment.

Igloolik, it's WAY up there!
First, a little more info on where I am: the small island of Igloolik, tucked away in Canada's Arctic. A small population (but still more than most communities up here!) of about 2,400 means everybody almost knows everybody. I can walk across town and back in about 30 minutes.
Supplies are limited to what can be found at the local Northern and Co-op store. Spare parts are usually obtained by heading up to "Canadian tire", otherwise known as the dump, and scavenging through what others have discarded. You can get auto parts, lumber, half-decent furniture, appliance parts, firewood, and if you're hungry enough, expired food from the stores (very few are this hungry, but it has been known to happen).
The internet is slow. I'm sure there are terrorists in caves on the other side of the world with better internet access than I've got. Once you pass your 10 gigabyte cap for the month, you either get put onto something slower than dial-up (it has taken me over 30 minutes for Microsoft Outlook to load my inbox), or spend $20 per gigabyte for the rest of the month. Even with ad-blocking extensions on my browser, loading this forum could take hours.
Now on to the brewing-related aspect of this article. There are many reasons I should NOT be brewing in this community, and only a couple reasons why I should. Those are weighed here, but the fact that I'm on this forum, with this ISP, should be a good indicator of which way I went.

Alcohol Education Committee Building
This town has a limited flow of alcohol. There are three ways to get it here.
1. Purchase it from the local Alcohol Education Committee.
Pictured above, the Alcohol Committee building has no signage because everybody knows where it is. This option is the most common, and also the most expensive, once you've paid for it. First you go to the AEC building, and place your order. Every Monday, the board members will review the orders, and approve or deny the orders based on your history with alcohol, and whether or not you live in the same house as somebody they don't want having it. You're only allowed to order a limited amount per month (up to 12 of each item), and they track who's ordered, and how much they've ordered. If you're on the "Do not share" list, then you're not allowed to order at all. I will refer to this as the "blacklist".
There are a couple of ways you can end up on this blacklist. Those ways are usually bootlegging, sharing with members on the blacklist, or get repeatedly sent to the drunk-tank. One person was arrested in Montreal last year for being drunk, and wound up on the Igloolik blacklist, and still is listed today. The more people there are on this list, the more buyers you have for bootlegged booze, which ultimately leads to more people on the list.
I placed one order through this committee, and after having paid $300 ($100 of this was paid at the airport, for the cargo fees) for two bottles of rum and a cheap box of wine, decided I valued my money more than a drink.
2. Smuggle it in your airline luggage
This is common, but with CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) in Iqaluit scanning luggage, not as much will make it into the community. Usually only shared with family members, however people will try to sell their excess drinks. A mickey (for you Americans, this term refers to a small bottle, usually 375 mL) will go for about $150.
There are people who will fill up bins with booze and bring it in as luggage, and then make thousands of dollars selling it to friends and relatives.
3. Make it yourself
Usually people who make their own are going for moonshine. However, including myself, there are only three people in town who make beer and wine. It is generally not advised to announce to the town that you do, because this is the best way to get your home broken into. Luckily, Inuit are a short people, because this makes me one of the biggest people in town. If somebody broke in, I could just sit on them!
You do need permission from the Alcohol Committee to begin brewing. I got verbal permission from one of the board members before I began, and informed the RCMP that I would begin having "large quantities" of beer and wine (in this town, a 5 gallon batch is a large quantity!) in my home.
Shipping costs
Living in a remote community in Canada's Arctic means you will constantly be paying higher rates on everything. There are no roads, which means everything is flown in. Everything from the "white" food we eat to the clothing we wear comes in as air cargo. This adds to the costs considerably. If you were to Google "food prices in the north" and you'll see the prices we pay even on the healthy subsidized goods!
But the store isn't the only place we pay more. Online shipping has recently been increased on sites like Amazon.ca, and Costco. A $40 box of diapers will cost $160 to ship from Amazon. Prime memberships are not an option once you've input your home address as a remote community.
This means that heavy items like Liquid Malt Extract and bulk orders of dextrose or grains will cost quite a bit to ship. Hops are smaller, but because mail comes in on an aircraft, it's still comparatively expensive to ship. I tend to use eBay sellers that offer free shipping after X amount has been spent, or don't adjust their shipping quotes once I've input my postal code. These sellers lose quite a bit of money at the post office, and I wont be surprised if they adjust their policies in the future.

Small portion of annual sealift cargo
Once a year, we get the sealift. Many people in town order a year's supply of household supplies (detergents, toilet paper, paper towel, dry food, the occasional vehicle). Pictured above, this is what came out of the last two sea containers. Hundreds of the sea containers were offloaded here just last week. If I had plans to be here longer, I would definitely order a crate full of LME, DME, dextrose, grains, hops and whatever else I could think of that would help this hobby. I would have the most backed-up pipeline in the entire territory! However, this is a large upfront cost, and the costs of living here are quite high. I've spent $50 on a 2kg bag of chicken at the store! As such, I haven't been able to save much.
Addiction in the north is quite the problem. Everything from sniffing gas to alcoholism causes problems here. A school in Cape Dorset recently burned down because some pre-teen kids were sniffing gas underneath the school (due to permafrost, all buildings are built on blocks 5 feet off the ground).
And because alcohol is a limited commodity, moderation is NOT generally something used to describe drinking habits. I know of at least one person who will take the day off work once her order comes in, just so she can drink it all before somebody steals it. A few people up here, who have spent time in the south, have said they were surprised how little drinking occurs when somebody has a "large stash". The concept of social drinking is a foreign one. When I said I was done after a couple of rum and cokes, I was asked "Why?". When the response was "I don't want to get drunk, I have work tomorrow", they were genuinely confused.
One of the other homebrewers in town is married to an alcoholic. He has told me that in 2013, the door to his brewing room had to be replaced 7 times because she kept breaking in while he was away on business. I assume he's replaced it many times since then.
When I make a batch of wine, my mother's half of it is gone within 2 days. 15 bottles, two days! I don't know how many people she's sharing it with, but assuming she's only sharing with two people, that's still a lot of wine gone.
There's no way to say this without sounding racially insensitive, but I'll just come right out and say it: Inuit don't know how to drink. There is no "rationing". They will drink until they can't stand, or until there's nothing left to drink. This brings me to my next point:
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Mounted Police's Trusty Steed
Not only do I work at the airport, but I also moonlight as the jail guard. And there is a LOT of babysitting to do. Every time somebody causes a ruckus, it's usually because somebody drank too much. The intoxicated person is brought in, their personal belongings put into a locker, and then they are put into the "drunk tank".
This is where they ask the intoxicated person where they got their liquor. I assume this is where most of the intel about bootlegging comes from. Drunk people aren't known for lying, and so if they get a name that wasn't on the list of people who made recent purchases from the AEC, they'll know who's getting unauthorized alcohol. While this particular segment isn't really relevant to home brewing directly, this is the reason I'm careful about who I invite over for drinks. If my guests are known for winding up in the drunk tank, then my permission for home brewing goes out the window. While I'm unsure if they'd be able to confiscate my equipment, I know I'd definitely lose my job at the jail, and that job pays too well for me to be handing out drinks willy-nilly. As it stands, only close family (the ones we trust, anyways) are invited over.
I'm not going to lie. The temptation to sell my drinks has been strong. It still is. There wouldn't be enough space under my mattress for all the money I'd be making. However, for some strange reason I've yet to fathom, I have not began bootlegging. The only reasons I could give myself for not having done so are my two jobs. I would lose the security clearance and trust from the RCMP, and would not be working there again. I would also lose the benefits of working for an airline; cheap flights and cheap cargo. The bosses know I use my discounts on brewing supplies (I only pay 20% of the cargo rate), and so if I were to begin abusing those benefits to make a profit on alcohol, those privileges would be revoked as soon as the RCMP had paperwork on it. I think I enjoy my Chinese food too much for that (I fly to other towns to pick up dinner, and fly back the same day).
Most people offer money in exchange for drinks. I get many midnight phone calls from people who think they can convince me to part with a bottle or two. At least a handful of women will offer "alternative payments" for those drinks. This is a result of my mother (up here, if you don't live with your family, you are a rich person indeed) telling all her friends when my batches are done. Those friends tell friends, then those friends tell their friends....a friend of mine from Ottawa made me laugh with this...
"im gonna see u on the news soon...a new beer baron has emerged in one of canada's most northern communities. An up an commer making enemies as he steals the women in town..."
Being one of the handful of people who have a nigh-infinite supply of beer and wine in a restricted town has led me to see a different side of much of the populace. Not only does my job at the jail allow me to see how people act when they're intoxicated, but being stopped in the streets or approached in line at the grocery store shows me how desperate many of these people are for a good drink.
Note: This is the first part of a two-part article. Part II will be released next. In it I will discuss some more of the environment and my brewing practices!

Great article @Venari. Really really fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing your adopted home town with us all. Looking forward to reading the second part. Any recipes incorporating the walrus stomach clams would be a nice bonus too.(if it's not already written). Great Job!
Wow, really fascinating article with a lot of different aspects to take in and digest. I certainly take for granted the convenience of being able to get brewing supplies (and I'm an expat in Brazil!). Cheers to you for overcoming the many challenges way up north.
Thank you for your insights. It's really hard hearing about these native populations that have such difficulty with addiction. It seems the sense of hopelessness that prevails leads many communities to various intoxicants.
I'm looking forward to your style, preferences, and procedures for brewing in part 2.
@Venari I have to say that for me your article really helped convey what is must be like living that far north. I think if I were living there I would be brewing a lot of high gravity Stouts and Wee Heavy's! I can't wait to read part 2, great job!
Wow, what an incredible insight in your (brewing) life there!
I've been wondering how you figured out logistics, but that seems only a minor issue, compared to the many other complications you need to deal with.
Can't wait for Pt.2.
Great Read!!!!!
I don't realize how good I have it until I read this!!!!
Part 2 will be fantastic!!!!
Now don't tell me you haven't been persuaded by that alternative payment!!!!!
Wow what a great story, I'm looking forward to reading Part 2. Good luck getting out of that hellhole!
Here is a Wired article about drinking on the other edge of the world: http://www.wired.com/2015/10/scientists-antarctica-drink-lot-maybe-much/
Great job, Vanari, I cannot wait to read part 2.
Wow! Well-written and fascinating article! I've always been fascinated by the north, so this article piqued my interest right away.
I'm looking forward for part two to come out.
I found it very interesting to see how radically the Canadian government infringes on your rights to have a beer or share a beer. It was refreshing to hear someone come off the "politically correct" bandwagon and really tell us the way things are instead of sugar coating the truth in fear of offending somebody. Great read!!
@passedpawn There is some grass, but no shrubbery of any kind.
@dfhar have you tried paying for airfare in Canada? They want an arm and a leg, and half your first born. The amount listed in the GoFundMe link is actually discounted due to my native status. I'm unable to use my benefits to fly down and quit, sadly :(
Well written piece. I have followed your tale at Canadian Homebrewers as well, and I must say, you have summed up your current situation very well. I do look forward to part 2 and also wish you luck in your endeavors to get out.
Really cool article to read! I enjoyed it. It's always so interesting to see what other people have to go through in order to get a drink! Crazy stuff. I'm looking forward to part deuce!!
I have heard tale of the alcohol problems in your part of the world and it is a terrible shame. Thank you for your story and I look forward to seeing more of your work.
I've read a similar story before but I think it was in Alaska. Sounds like a major problem and there are similar problems / attitudes in the Papua New Guinea and Australian aboriginal areas.
I'm putting on my judgmental hat here but if I had an alcoholic wife I sure as hell wouldn't be homebrewing.
The cost, the laws, the location, the fact that women are offering you trades for beer. I would never imagine. Thanks for sharing.
This was a truly interesting article & I enjoyed reading it. I learned something today, thank you. There are things I've pretty much taken for granted & your article has reminded me that I should be a little more grateful for what I have, where I live & the freedom I enjoy. Asking permission to buy booze? I understand the reasoning behind it, but damn! Looking forward to part 2!
Regards, GF.
Well written, and damn you for being an even more northern brewer than me ;D
And here i thought finnish people were terrible drinkers....
It has to have something to do with the cold, dark and the fact alcohol is expensive/controlled