How Distilleries Are Now Producing Hand Sanitizer

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While booze is still a great elixir to help people get through these self-quarantined times, a number of distilleries are now diverting their wares from spirits to an even bigger market: hand sanitizer.

In Colorado, Marble Distilling found it easy to use its facilities and raw materials to make sanitizer instead of spirits. “We only needed one additive to be able to make a hand sanitizer,” says co-founder Carey Shanks, whose company is offering a free bottle of sanitizer with every two bottles of Marble booze. “The transition was very quick.”

While the company is still producing its lineup of spirits, Shanks says that making “a high-proof, no-fluff sanitizer has been the primary concern.”

hand sanitizerPhoto: Courtesy of Marble Distilling

The World Health Organization (WHO) ordains that hand sanitizers need to be at least 60 percent alcohol, meaning starting out with a distillates that are much stronger beforehand. These then get mixed with such gumming agents as glycerin or aloe vera gel. Luckily, this alcohol regulation fits in perfectly with distilleries’ leftovers.

Taking cuts from its whiskey and vodka, Marble Distilling co-founder Connie Baker says it takes about three hours to make a 5-gallon bucket of “artisanal sanitizer,” largely because of the mixing time, blending the alcohol, and gumming agent. They soon hope to start making the sanitizer in their 500-gallon stripping still. “Our hope is to start making it large scale,” she says, adding that they cut it down from 185 to about 170 proof.

Shanks got the idea after seeing a Portland, Oregon, distillery doing something similar. He says they’re giving the spirits-turned-sanitizer away locally to the police department and caregivers, and are in discussions with a retail chain and local healthcare providers. “We’ve also had people knocking on our back door for it with their own flasks,” he says.

About the only hiccup they’ve encountered is in the bottle supply chain, though they expect to be getting another shipment of about 400 soon.

Nearby, Steamboat Whiskey Co., has also hopped on the hand sanitizer bandwagon, launching Ski Town Homegrown-Hand. “No one was able to find it in stores,” says co-owner Nathan Newhall. “It was something we could do to help out the community.”

hand sanitizerPhoto: Courtesy of Steamboat Whiskey Co.

Newhall adds that the process is relatively simple. “When you make booze, you end up with alcohol leftover that isn’t good to drink,” he says. “We re-distill that and then mix it with glycerin and a little hydrogen peroxide. It allows a normally wasted byproduct to be put to good use.”

Earlier in March, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau issued an advisory allowing distilleries to legally produce hand sanitizer, tax-free. Newhall says they were making theirs well before the directive came, the early jump allowing them to secure ingredients that have become hard to find. It gives free bottles of its sanitizer to the public and also distributes it to grocery stores and long-term care facilities. “We’ll continue to do that as long as there is a need,” he says.

Distilleries have quickly begun following suit across the country, popping the corks on fresh-from-the-barrel sanitizers from Portland, Ore., to the Bronx.

“I never thought in my life that I’d be in the hand sanitizer business,” Stephen DeAngelo, founder of Brooklyn’s Greenhook Ginsmiths, told NYeater.com in a recent interview. “It helps to keep my staff busy and we’re doing a lot of good for the hospitals as well.” DeAngelo’s distillery recently fielded orders of 4,200 gallons from area hospitals, with more on the way.

Elsewhere, bourbon and moonshine maker Kings County Distillery, which bases in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is singing the sanitizer tune as well, adding a third distillation to turn its spirits into sterilizer. “All the alcohol that we have is going to end up as hand sanitizer,” co-founder Colin Spoelman told NYeater.

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