Distilleries Help with Covid-19

As the distiller behind Los Angeles’ Amass, Morgan McLachlan spent the first couple months of 2020 on the road visiting many of her major markets, from London and Paris to San Francisco. She also happens to be pregnant—which, she says, made her feel “more vulnerable when traveling, and so maybe more aware of the coronavirus situation earlier on.” More than a month ago, McLachlan started making batches of 70-percent-alcohol-based hand sanitizer for herself, friends and family, based on her knowledge of chemical formulations and a personal interest in botanicals and historic remedies. Then word got out. “We made a small batch available online, just to see if people might want it, and it sold out immediately,” she notes. Now, the Amass team has ramped up production of the sanitizers, which started shipping out to customers in late March.

Stories like this are popping up all across the country, as distillers big and small are pivoting to creating a product that’s currently much in-demand—and much needed. “The nation’s distilled spirits industry is mobilizing to aid our communities, hospitals and first responders during this time of crisis,” says Chris Swonger, President and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). “This is not only the right thing to do for their communities, but it also allows some of these craft distilleries to keep their stills going, maintain their employees and stay afloat during this crisis.” To help, DISCUS recently launched an online portal to connect distillers who are producing hand sanitizer with suppliers and distributors, and the organization has also worked to overcome regulatory hurdles and streamline FDA and WHO guidelines for these small businesses.

The ways in which distillers are contributing to this movement differs. Some companies are producing the needed ethanol and providing them to other entities to make the sanitizers, while others are crafting the personal care products themselves; some are offering their hand sanitizers for sale to the public, while others are donating batches to area businesses and medical institutions. Many big companies are getting in on the movement; Bacardi, for example, has announced that eight of its owned manufacturing sites around the world will start producing sanitizer (an estimated total of 1.1 million liters) for first responders, employees and contractors, while The Sazerac Company—the largest producer of distilled spirits in North America—has enlisted its distilleries across the US to start making an estimated total of five million bottles of the cleanser to meet the needs of such industries as healthcare, military, retail and aviation.

But it’s the smaller distilleries—which have direct ties to their communities, and which are being impacted financially themselves—that are truly stepping up in this time of need. From California to Maine, here are eight domestic distilleries helping to lift spirits in a new way.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Company is using its straight-off-the-still, undiluted high-proof spirits—including its Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin, which has a scent of citrus peels, juniper berries and spices—to create bulk hand sanitizers that adhere to CDC and WHO guidelines. What started as a small side production has now all but taken over the distillery, as the company is trying to pivot to focusing full-time on creating sanitizer to donate to first responders, bars, restaurants and retailers operating delivery and takeout. As requests have been pouring in from individuals and institutions in more than 30 states, the distillery is currently in need of greater quantities of hydrogen peroxide and glycerin; those with access to these materials who would like to help are asked to contact NYDC directly.

Just as botanicals take center stage in Amass’s spirits, its new hand sanitizers also feature the power of natural ingredients—as well as a base of 70-percent alcohol, exceeding CDC guidelines. Harnessing both her decade-long experience as a distiller and her knowledge of historic formulations, Morgan McLachlan has created a non-drying blend featuring aloe, eucalyptus, cinnamon, clove and all spice; the spicy and herbaceous scent is based on a medieval recipe that was thought to protect people against the plague. The sanitizer is available in two-ounce and 16-ounce bottles; a portion of the proceeds will benefit the United States Bartenders Guild Emergency Grants Program to assist those who have been affected by the sudden closures of bars and restaurants.

The largest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi, Fort Worth’s Whiskey Ranch is—in normal times—a popular spot for its tours and tastings. Until it can re-open to the public, the team is helping to curb the national shortage of hand sanitizer by producing bottles of the cleanser and donating them for domestic use. While consumers can’t purchase the sanitizer, you can still support the distillery and its efforts by purchasing other goods from its retail site, from barware and coffee to Texas-inspired accessories.

As a partner at both Baston River Brewery and Distillery and Kennebunkport Resort Collection, Tim Harrington has hired displaced Kennebunkport Resort Collection hotel and restaurant staff to assist in the making of the Maine distillery’s Use Me hand sanitizer. In addition to being donated to medical and healthcare professionals in vulnerable communities, the sanitizer will be available for sale at local grocery stories and can be delivered to area residents—along with wood-fired pizza fresh from the tasting room’s ovens.

Founded in 2012 in Rochester, New York—where it was the first craft distillery to open since prohibition—Black Button Distilling uses more than 90 percent New York farm-grown ingredients to create its spirits, which range from vodka and gin to whiskey and a bourbon cream. The award-winning spot has temporarily ceased making its liquors to focus on producing 750mL glass bottles of hand sanitizer to distribute to area hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, homeless shelters and other high-risk facilities. Interested institutions can places an order by emailing cheers@blackbuttondistilling.com.

Recently opened in South Walton, Fla., Distillery 98 creates its spirits in a sustainable way, using local corn that’s filtered with Florida oysters, and then giving the spent grain mash to a nearby farm. That same community-minded ethos can be found in its production of hand sanitizers, which are created using their high-proof alcohol plus aloe vera, peroxide, and glycerin. The company is donating products to local healthcare and emergency workers, restaurants, gas stations and more; businesses in need can call the distillery directly and arrange for curbside pickup. Four-ounce bottles of the sanitizer will also soon be available for sale to the public and shipped nationally; follow the brand’s Instagram account for the latest details on when and how to place an order.

Known for its Treaty Oak Whiskey and Waterloo Gin, Austin-based Treaty Oak Distilling is crafting hand sanitizer using the high-proof grain neutral spirit from its gin production, mixed with glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water. Large bottles (one gallon and up) will be available for sale on its site’s main page and can be shipped widely (the distillery is aiming for an early-April launch date for nationally shipping.) Until then, area customers and businesses can purchase smaller bottles (from two ounces to one gallon) online either for pickup at the distillery or for delivery via the onsite restaurant and market (which also offers groceries, family meals, smoked meats and—when in stock—toilet paper.)

In the state where there are more barrels of bourbon than people, many distilleries in the Lexington, Ky. area have begun producing hand sanitizer in support of their community. Among them is Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., known for spirits such as Town Branch Bourbon and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The company is using its own alcohol supply for a formula made of 80 percent alcohol, aloe vera, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide and scented natural ingredients, all packaged in recyclable glass bottles. The cleansers are being provided free of charge to the community.

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