Share |

Distilling for Good

Distillers convert to making hand sanitizer.
Silent Pool Gin Hand Sanitizer
Silent Pool Gin
Silent Pool Gin

“Business as usual” is an outdated phrase in the U.S. In the beverage world, distillers have turned from infusing botanicals in gin to making high-proof ethanol from their vodka, amaro or donated beer into hand sanitizer to save the lives of frontline workers combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A scan of distilleries in the U.S. and beyond offers a glimpse into how both large companies and small craft distillers have quickly switched to making hand sanitizer to help their communities despite the pandemic’s impact on their businesses.

Joe Cannella has produced Cannella Cinnamon Cordial for several years. In Nov., 2019, Cannella opened Ferìno Distillery, his own production facility, on trendy 4th Street in Reno, Nev. Within a few months, the amaro distillery, 50-seat cocktail bar and pour-over coffee bar was humming with customers. Then the stay-at-home mandate arrived. Cannella’s immediate thought was to help first responders in the Washoe County Health District. He began producing ethanol for surface cleaning and then hand sanitizer. He now sells the limited amounts of the sanitizer in amaro bottles to the public.

Photo credit: Ferino Distillery

In a unique twist, Silver Bear Distillery in Dalton, Mass., makes hand sanitizers from beer.  A local brewery/supply company donated outdated cans of beer to distill to ethanol. Local volunteers helped open and pour the beer into vats destined for the still—maintaining proper social distancing during the pour over.

Photo credit: Stacey Sears

Occasio Winery owner John Kinney makes award-winning Bordeaux varietals in Livermore, Calif. His side gig is the production of spirits at his Sidewinder Spirits Company. Kinney makes the ethanol and adds aloe vera—pulped from local friends’ homegrown agave—and some fragrance.  Kinney describes the texture as more “liquidy” than Purell’s but adds, “It works.” Kinney offers a complimentary bottle of hand sanitizer with wine purchases.

Photo credit: John Kinney

The motivation of distillers to support the crisis prompted the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) of the United States to issue special guidance on producing hand sanitizers. The portal includes guidelines from the WHO and FDA for approved production methods. The Alcohol and Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) which regulates production, importation, distribution, labeling and advertising of alcohol is temporarily waiving formula approvals for the manufacture of hand sanitizer using and expediting certain permit requirements. The CARES Act, passed on March 25th to stimulate the economy and support workers, also eliminated taxes on alcohol when used for non-beverage purposes to medical and other qualifying organizations. 

Both DISCUS and the American Distilling Institute (ADI), “the voice of craft distilling,” serves as a hub for distillers needing supplies and distribution of the sanitizer. The ADI launched online forums to assist distillers in making hand sanitizers.

A major constraint for distillers making hand sanitizer is indeed the acquisition of containers. Drake’s Organic Spirits based in Minnetonka, Minn. converted its Organic Spiked Ice capacity to produce its organic hand sanitizer. But let’s back up a moment. Organic Spiked Ice are handheld ice pops featuring 15% ABV in four flavors such as vodka lemonade. The Spiked Ice product line was converted to producing two-ounce eco-pounches with hand sanitizer—enough for 59 hand sanitizer cleansings in each pouch.

As a bonus, all the ingredients are organic—from the ethanol distilled from Drake’s organic vodka and rum to the organic glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, and purified water USP—thus producing organic hand sanitizer. The company launched a website called Each Ounce Counts to communicate their program. For every ounce one purchases, an ounce will be donated to frontline workers. This program, said CEO Mark Anderson, ensures that the program is self-sustainable. Anderson expects to donate one million ounces of sanitizer.

Drake's organic hand sanitizer eco-pouches. Photo credit: Drake's Organic Spirits

O’Neill Vintners and Distillers is the seventh largest winery in California and a leading producer of premium wine, bulk wine, brandy and spirits for the beverage trade with five million gallons of brandy and dessert wines made annually. O’Neill is ramping up production of hand sanitizer and donating it to local hospitals in the Central Valley area around Fresno near where their winery and distillery are located. The company also donated face shields and N95 face masks to the medical community.

O'Neill hand sanitizer and masks. Photo credit: O'Neill Vintners and Distillers

Another major distillery is producing hand sanitizer in Texas. Whiskey Ranch in Fort Worth is one of the largest whiskey distilleries west of the Mississippi. The distillery, known for its tours, tastings, cocktail lounge, TX Whiskey and TX Whiskey Bourbon, is now dedicated to production of hand sanitizer to donate.

How about some gin-scented hand sanitizer? Craft producer Blackland Distillers produces gin, vodka, bourbon and rye whiskey in Fort Worth’s Foundry District, just west of downtown. Blackland has switched its production to ethanol to make hand sanitizer for local hospitals, frontline workers, and shelters. Their grain supplier generously donated the grain needed to make their gin-scented botanical hand sanitizer.

Blackland’s hand sanitizer is made with 71% ethanol and vegetable glycerin infused with Blackland Gin Botanicals. The distillery offers a complimentary bottle to those who purchase their spirits and to bars and restaurants that carry their spirits. Since March 23rd, Blackland has distributed 2,000 gallons of sanitizer through donations and sales. Temporarily out of stock, Blackland will start producing again the second week in April.

Blackland Distillery hand sanitizer with gin botanicals. Photo credit: Blackland Distillery

New York state has several distilleries producing hand sanitizer. Black Button Distilling, Rochester’s first “grain to glass” distillery, uses over 90% New York State all-natural ingredients to make their spirits. Black Button produces hand sanitizer to distribute to local hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and homeless shelters in 750 ml glass bottles.

In Burdett, Finger Lakes Distilling has converted its McKenzie Whiskey production to provide ethanol for hand sanitizer in bulk quantities to distribute to local healthcare providers and law enforcement. The distillery asks the public to bring their own bottles to be filled as available from their bulk batch of sanitizer.

Finger Lakes Distilling. Photo credit: Finger Lakes Distilling

Companies around the world are also producing hand sanitizer.

In the Dominican Republic, Ron Barceló, the world’s largest exported dark rum, coordinated with the National Dominican Beer Company and the government to shift production to donate and convert 32,000 liters of ethyl alcohol into sanitizers. The base ingredient for hand sanitizers will be delivered to millions of the most vulnerable populations in the country.

Ron Barcelo produced 75 percent alcohol packed for delivery. Photo credit: Ron Barcelo

Silent Pool Gin, produced in Surrey, United Kingdom, and broadly available in the U.S., was an early producer of hand sanitizer from its spirits in mid-March. Labeled as Silent Treatment Hand Sanitizer, the high-design product in a perfume-style spray bottle is made from ethanol, naturally extracted botanical oils, and other ingredients. The sanitizer is given away with purchases at the gift shop with each online order in the U.K.

Silent Pool Gin hand sanitizer. Photo credit: Silent Pool Distillers

Back in New Jersey, distillers are also supporting their communities. Sourland Mountain Spirits, known as “New Jersey’s Farm Distillery” in Hopewell, has shifted from producing their award-winning, craft spirits to hand sanitizers for health care systems, first responders and local nonprofits. Founder/CEO Ray Disch has a helping hand in logistics for the operation—his son Sage, a New York City entrepreneur. Here they display their Jersey-based hand sanitizer—with social distancing.

Sourland Mountain Spirits owners Ray and Sage Disch with SMS hand sanitizer. Photo credit-SMS

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)