Saturday, February 02, 2008

Living Damp

In this case, the post title refers not to the ambient humidity level or the condition of one’s clothes, but to the local alcohol control laws. In Alaskan parlance, Bethel is a damp town.

Damp is the compromise between wet and dry. In wet towns, like Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, alcohol is available for sale and the only restriction on purchase and consumption is your wallet. In dry towns, like almost all villages, alcohol is not only not for sale, but also illegal to bring in, possess or consume.

In the middle there is damp. In damp towns, alcohol is not available for sale, but it is legal to import it for personal use. Of course bootlegged alcohol is available in both dry and damp towns, it is simply not legal. Damp towns have limitations on the quantity of alcohol an individual may import, as an effort to curb bootlegging, and these limitations are chosen by each town.

Bethel has what are considered the “standard” limitations. In one month, one individual over the age of 21 can order: 10.5 liters of distilled spirits (that’s 14 “fifths”); 5 cases of beer; and 24 liters of wine (32 regular-sized bottles (750 ml)). That means one could consume 4 cans of beer, 1 bottle of wine, and half a fifth of hard liquor every day and still have a little bit left over. The limitations don’t seem terribly restrictive to me, though I have heard people grouse about them.

The process for importing the alcohol is what feels more onerous. First you must choose an alcohol distributor in Anchorage with a Bush program, such as Brown Jug Liquors or Party Time Liquors. An account must be established with them by supplying a photocopy of your Alaska driver’s license or state I.D. showing a physical address that is not in a dry village.

When you are ready to place an order, you write out a list of what you want, within the above limitations, sign the list (original signatures only, no faxes), include your D.L./I.D. number, and the cargo company you wish them to ship with. It is easiest to pay by giving them a credit card number. If you prefer to pay by check, you must call them, tell them what the order is and who the shipper is; they will estimate the weight and give you a total amount. If they misjudge the weight, and the amount of your check is inadequate to cover the order and the shipping, they will ship the order “Freight Collect”, meaning you pay the cargo company when you pick it up.

Once your order is ready to send in, you either mail it to Anchorage or you drive it out to the airport to your preferred cargo company, fill out a form and leave it with them. The next day, or the day after, you call them to check if your order is in, and then drive back out to the airport to pick it up.

Dutch and I are “social” drinkers. We enjoy a glass of wine with dinner a few nights per week, or a beer while watching football or eating pizza on the weekends. We go through the ordering process perhaps three or four times per year.

Part of my difficulty with the ordering process is in knowing what to order. I am a sucker for marketing; I will admit that I choose a bottle of wine because I like the label. I enjoy just wandering the wine aisle and looking at the labels. So of course, I have figured out a few that I like, and I can simply order them, but where’s the fun and adventure in that?

One of the best parts of a trip to Anchorage (coming up in two weeks) is being able to walk into a liquor store or wine shop and just browse, talk to someone knowledgeable, and buy whatever we want. Dutch’s comment the last time we did was “Wow! Makes me feel like such a grown-up!”



Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

You're doing a lovely job of "filling in the gaps" of life in Alaska, dog mushing and life cycle events. I can't wait to read the book.

(I may not comment, but I read every post eagerly, and think of you often between your posts.)

Saturday, February 02, 2008 5:54:00 PM  
Blogger Indigo said...

I love your tales. I am also north of sixty having spent many years in Canda's polar regions working as a NP.

Head on over to

and see what we do for fun here in our cold winter and PLEASE vote for me.


Sunday, February 03, 2008 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still enjoying your posts! :)

Sunday, February 03, 2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Aw shucks, Dr. D! Thanks! {blushing and digging toe in the dirt}

Indigo--I did, and I did. You are definitely the most stylin' in that bunch. Love the accessories! I can't believe Clare has the most votes--he's dressed for a summer day around here. TMD READERS, GO VOTE FOR INDIGO!!

Hey Oz! So good to hear from you! With all the stress and hard work of your final year of med school, I'm totally honored that you still find time to check on me. Good luck with your final few months--the end is near...

Sunday, February 03, 2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger ERnursey said...

That's a crap load of alcohol, what do they think they are achieving by making you order it like that?

Sunday, February 03, 2008 8:31:00 PM  

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