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Distilleries Are Producing Hand Sanitizer to Combat Coronavirus

No matter where you look, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic continues to infiltrate news sources of all kinds — food and drink included. Bars and restaurants have been forced to close temporarily, some even face permanent closure depending on our government’s action, or a lack thereof. These extreme measures, along with the need to self-isolate and distance ourselves from others have caused people all over the world to panic-shop as a result. If you’ve been to your local supermarket lately, the chances are very high that you’ve seen the repercussions of this panic. The shelves where toilet paper once lived are almost always completely empty, and cleaning and sanitizing products are also facing massive shortages due to the crisis.

One product, in particular, is nowhere to be found, and that is hand sanitizer. Recent government announcements and the Alcohol, Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) have issued an advisory that distilleries would now be legally allowed to produce hand sanitizer, tax-free. In these unprecedented times, many distilleries have stepped up by dedicating some of their production capacity to producing hand sanitizers, and cleansers, for their local communities.

New York Distilling Company

New York Distilling Company Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin
New York Distilling Company

The Williamsburg-based distillery is using its straight-off-the-still, undiluted Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin to create hand sanitizer in bulk for bars, restaurants, and retailers as a way of offering solidarity, support, and friendship for the local hospitality industry. Its home recipe is based on CDC recommendations, using two parts uncut gin (about 85% ABV) with one part aloe vera gel. Since the sanitizer uses Perry’s Tot Gin as the base, it contains botanicals, providing a scent of juniper berries, citrus peels, and spices.

Because it has completely pivoted its operations towards hand sanitizer production — an incredibly generous effort — the distillery is now in need of different materials that it doesn’t typically have on hand. “The primary commitment is making sure we are following WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines and sourcing materials that we do not typically work with,” Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company, says. Those materials being hydrogen peroxide and glycerin, specifically. “As a distiller of gin and rye whiskey, we would mix our high-proof spirit with these elements to create hand sanitizer,” says Katz. “We have essentially shut down the other elements of our business and, for now, have the time to put toward feasibility and production, as best we can, to try and assist our community.” Katz stresses that the financial repercussions of this shift are not significant at the moment and that the team’s focus is to give back to the people who are in need. (If you, or someone you know, are able to provide any leads for sources for their needed materials, please contact NYDC here.)

AMASS Spirits

AMASS Alcohol-Based Botanic Hand Wash
AMASS Spirits

AMASS master distiller Morgan McLachlan, currently pregnant with her first child, was feeling vulnerable in the midst of COVID-19. After struggling to find any hand sanitizer options available in-store or online, she decided to combine her expertise in botanicals, alcohol, and formulation to develop her own version to protect herself and the AMASS team, and others. With 70% ethyl alcohol, AMASS Alcohol-Based Botanic Hand Wash exceeds the CDC standards. It contains Aloe leaf juice as well as cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, and allspice, inspired by the “four thieves recipe,” a blend of botanicals believed to prevent the spread of the plague in medieval Europe.

As the small, LA-based independent producer tries to step in to make a difference, it has produced 1,000 bottles with its first batch, but it is continuing to scale up based on demand. However, there are supply chain shortages for raw materials worldwide (a common hurdle many distilleries are facing). “As the situation evolves daily, AMASS’ first priority is to help those in need,” Mark Lynn, AMASS’ CEO, says. “We are talking to California hospital providers and charities to donate a version of our 70% alcohol-based hand wash, as well as donating 10% of sales of our alcohol-based botanic hand wash to United States Bartenders Guild (USBG).”

A portable 2 oz and 16 fl oz bottles are available for pre-order here.

Desert Door Distillery

Desert Door Distillery Hand Sanitizer
Desert Door Distillery

Desert Door Distillery (Driftwood, Texas) has added making hand sanitizer produced according to WHO and FDA standards as part of its daily production as the world faces the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis. The Driftwood, Texas, sotol distillery just began production and will have over 20,000 8 oz bottles available to the public for free in the very near future. The hand sanitizer is made with 80% alcohol as the active ingredient.

Co-founders Ryan Campell, Judson Kauffman, and Brent Looby — all military veterans — wanted to aid in the fight against COVID-19. In doing so, the trio welcomes other distillers to reach out, as they are happy to share the production process details and knowledge if necessary. Desert Door got its TTB license amended to produce sanitizer, and the Texas distillers expect word from the TTB soon on allowing all distillers to produce sanitizer.

“The three of us have never watched from the sidelines in our lives, and we are not going to start now,” Ryan Campell, co-founder of Desert Door, says. “Desert Door has resources and capabilities that can be helpful during this time, and so we are going to stay in the fight making hand sanitizer to WHO and FDA standards.” Desert Door is directly donating its 8 oz hand sanitizers to many organizations, including the San Antonio Police Department, area nursing homes, and area shelters. Desert Door also plans to help the Austin restaurant and bar community by giving sanitizer to distribute with to-go orders.


Hand Sanitizer Bacardi

The liquor powerhouse has also recently announced its dedication to providing hand sanitizer to their local community in Puerto Rico, partnering with Puerto Rican manufacturer, Olein Refinery, who has provided ethanol for more than 1.7 million 10 oz bottles of hand sanitizer. At 70% alcohol, these products are in line with the recommendations by the WHO for containing the spread of the virus.

More than half a million of the bottles will be donated to to local communities, and Bacardi has already started giving away free sanitizer and disinfectant to postal workers, firefighters, and police officers, as well as its own employees and contractors. “This is a family-owned business and we know what it means to take care of a community in need,” says Jose Class, VP, Supply Chain & Manufacturing, for Bacardi Latin America and the Caribbean. “In the 158 years of Bacardi, we’ve endured our share of challenging times and have learned that resilience, optimism, and community are what will help us come out stronger.” The temporary shift in production began on March 17 and will continue as needed.

Caledonia Spirits

Caledonia Spirits Bar Hill Hnad Sanitizer
Caledonia Spirits

Caledonia Spirits — the popular Vermont-based distiller of Barr Hill Gin, Barr Hill Vodka, and Tom Cat Gin — have also taken to hand sanitizer production to provide assistance for local nonprofit organizations. Since it already had the raw materials needed to make it on-hand, the distillery’s team got together and started production as soon as they began recognizing the immense shortages.

“The plan is to provide large volumes of hand sanitizer to the UVM [University of Vermont] Health Network, Vermont state offices, first responders, and other brave people on the front lines of this thing who are providing critical function,” Harry Kahn, VP of Marketing for Caledonia Spirits, says. “We’re following the WHO guidelines to make our hand sanitizer with alcohol, glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide. As a distillery, we’re making the alcohol, and we’re working as hard as we can to source as much glycerin and as many small bottles as possible.”

These are not the only distilleries currently producing hand sanitizer, though. If interested, check with your local craft distilleries to see if they, too, are getting in on the act.

Tyler Zielinski
Tyler is a New York-based freelance cocktail and spirits journalist, competitive bartender, and bar consultant. He is an…
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