A bottle of Broad Branch Distillery's Whiskey Wash Hand Sanitizer sits on a barrel on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Winston-Salem, N.C. The distillery is creating hand sanitizer, which is available for free to the public, in reaction to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. (Andrew Dye/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)
A bottle of Broad Branch Distillery's Whiskey Wash Hand Sanitizer sits on a barrel on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Winston-Salem, N.C. The distillery is creating hand sanitizer, which is available for free to the public, in reaction to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. (Andrew Dye/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

Distilleries are the newest players in the hand sanitiser business

By Kate Krader Time of article published Mar 21, 2020

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INTERNATIONAL - Some unexpected sources already have stepped up to fill the shortage of hand sanitiser.

In France the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH is now using its perfume factories to make the product for hospitals. In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration is now encouraging pharmacists to make their own.

Earlier in March, Tito’s warned the public not to use its vodka for homemade versions because it didn’t meet the 60% alcohol requirement. But that hasn’t stopped small-batch distilleries in the U.S. and the U.K. from doing their part to pitch in on the effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

They are uniquely equipped to make hand sanitiser because the most effective germ-fighting ones are generally made with a base of 60%-plus alcohol, a product that distilleries have in abundance.

Beyond that, basic recipes include aloe vera for moisturizing; distilleries will also add the botanicals or flavorings from their signature spirits as a twist. Portland, Ore.-based Shine Distillery & Grill isn’t treating its formula like a trade secret. “I have fielded some calls from Seattle and suggested they contact their local distilleries to tell them what we are doing,” says general manager Ryan Ruelos. “Because any distillery can do it.”

The one thing they cannot do, though, is sell their sanitiser: Sales of distilled spirits are strictly regulated by the government and could jeopardize business licenses. Instead, distilleries are giving them away to customers who come through their doors. In some cases, such as at Psychopomp Microdistillery in Bristol, England, donations from customers who take the sanitiser are being given to charity.

Naval Gin Sanitizer

Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Co. has begun using its straight-from-the-still Perry’s Tot Navy Strength gin to make sanitiser, which it’s given out to area restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. (New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday night that the city’s bars and restaurants will close, except for pickup and delivery services.) The recipe is simple: two parts uncut gin with one part aloe vera; the scent is of juniper berries and citrus.

Shine Hand Cleaner

Ever since Shine Distillery & Grill opened in Portland, Ore., in July, its distiller and owner Jon Poteet had been using “gin heads” (leftovers from the distillation process) to clean the property. In March, Shine began bottling the product. Demand has been so high with customers from all over Oregon, says general manager Ruelos, that it’s imposed a limit of two bottles per person.

Coco Rum Sanitizer

Washington mixologist Todd Thrasher, who runs Potomac Distillery and Tiki TNT on the Wharf, makes his sanitiser with a combination of coconut oil, tea tree extract, and his house 140-proof rum. (Note: Tiki TNT is temporarily closed because of coronavirus restrictions in the nation’s capital.) “We were going through so many wipes we could not keep up with the demand, so we decided to make our own and looked to what ingredients they use on the islands,” says Thrasher. You can practically drink it, he says. “But don’t.” 

Key Lime Margarita Sanitizer

In California, Sonoma County-based Prohibition Spirits produces an array of distilled beverages including whiskey, rum, brandy, and the house special, limoncello. Owner Fred Groth has created three “flavors“ of sanitiser that evoke popular cocktails: key lime margarita, Old-Fashioned, and piña colada. Their scent is of the drinks, not sharp alcohol.

Gin Sanitizer

The Psychopomp Microdistillery produces about 15,000 liters of gin annually. In early March it started producing hand sanitiser when local stores were sold out. This version is made with botanicals that are also featured in its gin, as well as 65% ethanol. “A limiting factor is finding the time to make sanitiser instead of gin,” says co-founder Danny Walker. Psychopomp is producing about 2 liters of sanitiser per day at a cost of roughly £20 ($25) per liter. Walker asks customers to donate to the local children’s hospital in lieu of payment.

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