HAINES -

Heather Shade and Sean Copeland operate what they say is the first distillery in Southeast Alaska.

Last summer, Copeland used his carpentry skills to revive what used to be a bakery nearly a hundred years ago (on the grounds of Fort Seward) into the Port Chilkoot Distillery. Shade, a former biologist, is now in charge of baking up batches of whiskey and vodka.

"The distillation process creates a clear spirit, and when we put it into the barrels here and mature it, than it takes on the color and flavor people know as whiskey flavor," he said.

That process takes about two years in barrels custom-made in Kentucky specifically for aging bourbon-style whiskey. The process for making vodka flows much faster.

"It's distilled multiple times to remove the flavors that we know of as whiskey, until it has a really pure, clean taste," Shade said.

Shade and Copeland say they've seen the micro-distillery industry surge nationwide, and they wanted to get a sip of the action. 

They opened up a few months ago and are distributing their product to stores in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. They hope to soon start making gin at their distillery as well.

"My wife and I wanted to work together, start a business together," said Shade. "We had thrown around a bunch of different ideas, and we wanted to stay in Haines, we didn't want to move some place else to start a business, so we came up with this idea."

The process isn't as easy as it looks. The couple puts in 12 hour work days.  They're hoping to hire on some help in the future if spirits and profits continue to flow.

"People are really stoked about what we're doing here," said Copeland.

In addition to selling their spirits in stores around the state, Shade and Copeland also self-distribute to certain bars in Haines. If their products are successful, they intend to expand into the Lower 48. 

The couple says currently its license doesn't allow Port Chilkoot to sell liquor at retail from the distillery in Haines, but they are working to amend it.