From celebrities and chefs to local food banks and grassroots organizations, people everywhere have been pitching in to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on our communities—and some distilleries are making hand sanitizer to help curb the spread.
Craft distilleries across the U.S. are responding to the shortage of hand sanitizers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of beer, gin, whiskey, and rum, they are recalibrating their facilities and directing their employees to produce hand sanitizer.
“The government reached out to the DISCUS (Distiller’s Spirit Council of the U.S.) to do anything that was in our power to help in the current situation. At this point, we pivoted from making whiskey to hand sanitizer,” says Andrew Soltau from Louisiana-based Sugarfield Spirits. His is one of the dozens of companies that immediately got on board with the idea.
Though most distillers have no prior experience in making hand sanitizers, it is a product that spirits businesses are in a unique position to make, given their production process.
Family-run Hardshore Distilling Company’s founder, Jordan Milne comments, “We know nothing about making hand sanitizer, or at least we didn’t until last week. What we do know is that our state’s hospitals are running out of it, and the call has come down for us to step up and fill in the supply gap.”
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A sanitizing agent is classified as any liquid that exceeds 60 percent alcohol content. Using a formula provided by The World Health Organization, distilleries are mixing alcohol with purified water, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerin. The process takes only a few minutes, though sourcing the ingredients, purifying the alcohol, as well as bottling and packaging, can take up to 10 days.
Formula approvals, FDA regulations, and permits are required before making the product, though due to the urgent demand, certain exemptions and authorizations have been relaxed. In mid-March, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees the industry, waived parts of a federal law to allow distilleries to “immediately commence production of hand sanitizer” without having to obtain authorization first. Federal excise tax is also not applied to hand sanitizers if made with denatured ethanol.
Distilleries in almost every state across the U.S., as well as in Puerto Rico, are rushing to make hand sanitizers by the gallons. Though demand is high, most producers are donating the products for free to first responders, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, healthcare centers, homeless shelters, restaurant workers, and individuals who need it.
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Virginia-based Reservoir Distillery is giving away 10 ounces of sanitizer per person. Only one person is allowed to enter the distillery at a time, between the hours of 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. In Lansdale, PA, Boardroom Spirits offers four ounces free to each person, and charges for bulk orders. Cincinnati-based master distillers Karrikin Spirits Co. allow you to donate a bottle (four ounces for $3) to a first responder. Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits offers multiple options to purchase sanitizer for healthcare workers.
Distillers are asking customers to bring their own containers, preferably spray bottles, as there is a shortage of plastic bottles. Some distillers are using creative ways to go around this issue. Woodinville Whiskey is bottling their sanitizers in 9-ounce Barrel Aged Maple Syrup bottles, and the West Fork Whiskey Co. in 8-ounce plastic honey bear bottles.
Many states have restrictions on selling high proof spirits and flammable substances online, so your only choice may be to physically drive to a distillery to get hand sanitizer.
You shouldn’t make hand soap and sanitizers at home if you can avoid it, as it is dangerous. “The chemicals are extremely flammable and peroxide can burn you too. You have to use caution,” advises Ian Glomski, founder of Vitae Spirits Distillery. The mixture you concoct at home may also not be effective.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible to kill the coronavirus and prevent infection. But if soap and water are not available, the agency says, hand sanitizer can be used if it contains at least 60 percent alcohol and is rubbed vigorously for about 20 seconds.
Header image courtesy of Javier Zayas Photography / Moment / Getty Images