If there’s anything the craft beverage industry has taught us, it’s that we’re all in this together. But this camaraderie of cheering on each other’s businesses and supporting local communities isn’t anything new for the beverage makers across the U.S. However, with the rapid changes we’re all experiencing due to COVID-19, local distilleries have chosen to step up in an even bigger way.
We’ve all read the Centers for Disease Control recommendations in regard to cleanliness and social distancing, with a focus on keeping a six-foot space around you and washing your hands properly and often. But when soap and water isn’t available, hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol can serve as a useful alternative. That’s where distilleries come in.
A NATURAL SOLUTION
Ian MacNeil, owner of Glass Distillery in Seattle, took matters into his own hands when he began to notice the lack of hand sanitizer available in the Seattle area in response to the outbreak.
“In essence, it’s an alcohol antiseptic you put on your hands, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, I make that every single day,’” MacNeil says. “Using the parts of the distilling process that we don’t use to produce good, drinkable alcohol has been a part of our business for eight years, as we’ve always used it to clean the distillery. It was a natural thing for us to do.”
The surge of distilleries across the nation making hand sanitizer is increasing by the day, and that was all thanks to the Food and Drug Administration changing their guidelines on March 18. Distilleries were given permission to start making hand sanitizer for distribution, as long as they were abiding by the formula outlined by the FDA. The change allows any distillery to make hand sanitizer because of the shortage, and the Washington Distillers Guild has banded together to emphasize the importance in production.
“The FDA issued a notice to keep track of what is made, to make it according to the guidelines, label it accordingly and just to please start making it,” says MacNeil.
COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY
Since Glass stopped production on any of their other products, MacNeil says they’ve given out well over 3,000 bottles to those who needed hand sanitizer. And when you consider the fact that there is a production cost for these distilleries to make hand sanitizer, but many of them, like Glass, are giving it away at no cost, it is no small feat.
“I committed to making as much as we possibly can,” he adds. “So many larger organizations are needing large quantities so we’re starting to bottle in gallon containers for hospitals, nursing homes, first responders and even grocery stores that are requesting it.”
Glass isn’t the only Washington distillery to devote its equipment, materials and space to the hand sanitizer cause. Woodinville Whiskey Co. in Woodinville, Sandstone Distillery in Tenino, Temple Distilling in Lynnwood, LaJoye Spirits in Auburn and many more producers are as well, and their teams have been working around the clock to keep up with demand. (2Bar Spirits is donating its production to a local hospital but has a running list of other producers for consumers here.)
“We were getting requests from local community members, and then we started getting requests from local healthcare providers and regional hospitals,” says Justin Stiefel, CEO of Heritage Distilling Co., a multi-location distiller that has stepped up in a big way. “So, we decided to stop production of everything else we make to shift our attention to this mission.”
At Heritage, the distiller has been able to keep its employees working during this difficult time, all while providing for the local communities surrounding their taprooms. According to Stiefel, Heritage is blending denatured ethyl alcohol with the appropriate amount of distilled water, hydrogen peroxide and moisturizer. The bottles are being offered in the six tasting rooms, as well as the option for hand sanitizer on tap, in addition to providing it in larger quantities to hospitals and first responders.
“By doing this we are able to support the people in healthcare who are on the front lines, we are supporting the community, we are responding to a community need and we are able to keep our people working during this critical period when things are falling apart all around us,” Stiefel says.
For MacNeil, this is also his way of giving back during a time in need. A consistent proponent for supporting the local community, he says Glass Distillery normally donates to auctions to support community functions, but with the majority of those now canceled, this is his way of still lending a helping hand.
“We used to say that by owning a distillery we’re not trying to save the world, but this is our way now to give back and to help save the world,” he says. “Every distillery should be making it. And as long as we have this problem and there’s a need, we’ll solve it.”
Curious about what distillers are offering during these trying times? Click here.