How to Buy Alcohol in Iqaluit


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Before delving into the steps to buy alcohol in Iqaluit, it should be noted that the lighthearted tone of this article is in no way meant to minimize the very real problems associated with alcoholism. While alcohol is often used as a social lubricant, it can just as easily be used in much more perverse ways. It goes without saying that drinking should be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation.

Of all the advice and insights shared on Finding True North, there is but one burning question left unanswered. It floats there ethereal, left untouched, waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I am talking, of course, about how to buy alcohol in Iqaluit.

The first thing to know about purchasing booze in Nunavut is that, until recently, direct sales of alcohol to the public were limited to licensed establishments. The second thing you need to know is that not every community is created equal. There are four categories of communities in Nunavut’s liquor restriction structure: Unrestricted, Restricted, Committee, and Prohibition.

For the purposes of this article, I will deal only with the first, as Iqaluit operates in an unrestricted system. In this system, there are four main ways to acquire alcohol for private consumption. In no particular order:

  1. Rankin Inlet Liquor Warehouse
  2. Sealift
  3. Southern Distributor
  4. Airport Luggage

Option 1: Rankin Inlet Liquor Warehouse

Never mind the fact that the name conjures up visions of a great workshop in which Santa fills his First Air/Canadian North sleigh full of delightful beverages, delivering joy and good tidings to all the good adults in Iqaluit aged 19 and over. The Rankin Inlet Liquor Warehouse is actually the most reliable and straightforward method of ordering giggle juice in Iqaluit.

The process begins with contacting a friendly Liquor Operations Agent to obtain the Weekly Inventory List for Rankin Inlet. With updated list in hand, you then fill out the simple Customer Order Form. Prices vary from $15 for a 750ml bottle of wine to $35 for a 750ml bottle of spirits. On top of the base liquor charge, there is also a freight charge; despite what you may think, flying your booze across Hudson Bay still isn’t free. You then wait two to five days, get a call from First Air/Canadian North cargo, and presto – alcohol in a box.

While you can also order beer from Rankin Inlet, it costs about $2.50 per can and weighs a ton, which can quickly add up. Beers, therefore, are better left to sealift. Alas...

In high spirits with Rankin spirits, complete with custom neon-green-bilingual-responsible-drinking labels compliments of the Government of Nunavut.

In high spirits with Rankin spirits, complete with custom neon-green-bilingual-responsible-drinking labels compliments of the Government of Nunavut.

Option 2: Sealift

If you’re like me and enjoy a cheeky few after work or during the game, sealift is for you. Without the benefit of stopping in at the local Cold Beer and Wine after work (yet?), Iqalummiut are forced to think long term when purchasing their beer. That means ordering enough beer to last the hockey season, or for the numerically inclined, hundreds of beers at once.  For this, only a big boat will do.

Beer sealifts can be done using either of the following methods. The first is to travel to Ottawa and arrange the buying, packaging, transporting, and crating of the beer yourself. Beer is treated as any other good in this instance, thus the normal sealifting procedures apply. The second involves knowing "a guy." This year, I knew a guy, who knew a guy that took orders and arranged the whole process. He ordered beer direct from the brewery and was thus able to obtain it for a reasonably cheap price. Both methods require an alcohol permit, which can be purchased at your local Nunavut Liquor Commission office.

Having sealifted beer two years in a row, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing quite as thrilling as opening a closet to a wall of beer. The one downside is that your wall-of-beer will most likely be of the domestic beer variety. So if you are a flavour aficionado, having a couple hundred Silver Bullets on hand might not be the best use of resources. Which leads us to our third option…

Flavourtown. Population: me.
Flavourtown. Population: me.

Option 3: Southern Distributors

Because both Rankin Inlet and sealift options are limited in what they can offer, many people reach out to southern distributors for their Belgian Tripels and other assorted fineries. However, Townie Bastard, in his infinite wisdom, has cautioned: "Keep in mind that if you order alcohol, you might have trouble getting European booze, like Scotch or French and Italian wines. The Government of Nunavut banned the importation of European alcohol into the territory as retaliation for the EU’s attempts to ban seal products. Seriously." So maybe stick to Vancouver Island Lucky Lager, like this summer solstice party-goer did.

A word of caution to readers, however, as I have never used this method and thus might not be aware of all the nuances.

Using the LCBO as an example, the process goes something like this:

  1. Go on the LCBO website and look at their product list.
  2. Obtain the product number for the item(s) you wish to import.
  3. Contact the LCBO warehouse.
  4. Determine product availability.
  5. Arrange shipping details (both with the LCBO and First Air/Canadian North cargo).

Now, the third item on this list is where most of the nuances are. I’ve been told that contacting the “warehouse” actually means knowing “a guy who works in the warehouse. But maybe not. Whether or not shipping liquor to Nunavut is standard LCBO practice, or a form of pass-the-envelope-under-the-table business, the reader must decide.

Another option is to use a shopping service such as iShop4U to go out and purchase your desired bevies. The one drawback here: the extra charge of having a human-being not named “Mom” shopping for you will add to the bottom line.

Option 4: Airport Luggage

Our final option involves pack-muling your road pops in your luggage when you (or your friends) come up north. This is a very popular option, but be warned there are rules, both written and unwritten. The written rules say that a person may import quantities no greater than 3 liters of spirits, or 9 liters of wine, or 26 liters of beer. If you stick to these quantities, no permits are necessary. Furthermore, passengers are only permitted two 70 pound bags on both First Air and Canadian North – so choose your contents wisely my friends. The unwritten rules (as written here) stipulate that travelers must pack their wares carefully, as baggage handlers in the North have been known to create more than a few dead soldiers on occasion.

Middle Mountain Magick Mead, transported in a suitcase from Hornby Island to Vancouver Island to Baffin Island.
Middle Mountain Magick Mead, transported in a suitcase from Hornby Island to Vancouver Island to Baffin Island.

So there you have it: four ways to buy alcohol in Iqaluit. If readers have any suggestions/corrections, please leave them in the comment section! And remember, Oscar Wilde said it best:

Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drukenness.

Andrew Pye moved to Iqaluit in the winter of 2013, and has been fighting for survival ever since. In his spare he enjoys sipping moderately priced scotch, reading books of a reasonable length, and cheering on the Vancouver Canucks to mediocrity. 
Andrew Pye moved to Iqaluit in the winter of 2013, and has been fighting for survival ever since. In his spare he enjoys sipping moderately priced scotch, reading books of a reasonable length, and cheering on the Vancouver Canucks to mediocrity.