Distilleries Begin Producing Hand Sanitizer During Outbreak

by
March 20, 2020

In these trying times, the feeling of uncertainty is one that we all share. We know the best practices for getting through COVID-19 include social distancing, hand washing and sanitization. However, a supply trip to any store has become increasingly challenging as essential items were the first things to go, including hand sanitizer. And a quick browse online yields similar results. Fortunately, there’s one industry that has a large stockpile of alcohol, and the ability to make more readily available. Distilleries all over the world have taken charge and begun mass producing and distributing hand sanitizer and disinfectant to citizens and businesses in need.

From the big names like Pernod Ricard to the small local craft producer, distilleries all over the globe are stepping up in this time of uncertainty to provide a much needed good to the public.

A CALL FOR HELP

As news of the pandemic spread, the need for hand sanitizer outgrew the available supply. People were taking to social media to share photos of empty store shelves. Restaurants and bars were becoming increasingly in need of disinfectant to keep things sanitary for their staff and patrons. Not to mention retirement homes, medical facilities, delivery drivers and more were all facing the same issue.

Hand Sanitizer: Mixing alcohol at Koval Distillery Mixing alcohol at Koval Distillery /Photo Credit: Koval Distillery

After some at home recipes went viral online, on March 4th, Tito’s issued a statement urging people not to use the brand’s vodka as hand sanitizer, as it’s only 40% ABV, not the required 60% or higher. However, just over a week later, news broke that several craft distilleries had begun making their own in-house sanitizer to donate for free to the community. Unfortunately, even noble deeds require regulation when it comes to alcohol. Until very recently, distribution required applying for a permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which those first distilleries had to wait to be granted prior to distribution or risk license revocation.

“We are uniquely positioned to be able to contribute, but until very recently, there were restrictions in place prohibiting distilleries like ours for producing alcohol for anything other than consumption,” says Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, co-founder and president of Chicago’s Koval Distillery, who has been working with the city to lift these restrictions.

FEDERAL REGULATION GRANTED

Following the public outcry and uptake in distillery production, on March 18th, the TTB released documents which allow Alcohol Fuel Plants and Beverage Distilled Spirits Plants to manufacture sanitizer without obtaining a permit as long as the producers follow the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. These guidelines state that sanitizer must be made of denatured or undenatured ethanol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide.

CRAFT DISTILLERIES SWITCH GEARS

Following this release, dozens of craft distilleries both big and small began their own sanitizer production. Located in Nashville, Corsair Distillery is now making “Gintervention”, a sanitizer distilled from gin.

“There’s obviously been a huge need for sanitizer, and we wanted to help,” says Corsair Distillery Founder Andrew Webber. “As soon as the TTB said it was OK, we knew we could.”

Hand Sanitizer: Corsair Distillery's GinterventionCorsair Distillery’s Gintervention /Photo Credit: Corsair Distillery

And it’s all hands on deck to keep up with demand. “Our bar staff are helping bottle our spirits and our sanitizer,” says Webber. “We’re working physically separate from each other in small shifts throughout the day.”

A similar situation is unfolding at Koval. “We are doing everything we can to support as many organizations in need of sanitizer as possible; the list of institutions that have reached out in the last 24 hours alone will soon reach the triple digits and is continuing to grow,” says Birnecker Hart. The brand even started a Go Fund Me to help keep up with the demand.

When asked what the public could do to give back, both brands had similar replies. “We are currently in emergency mode trying to locate vessels to put our sanitizer in,” says Birnecker Hart. “If there are any packaging companies or producers who have FDA approved plastic jugs they are able to donate, please reach out.” The distillery is currently working to provide hand sanitizers in bulk to the medical community, retirement homes and those on the front lines.

Beyond donations to to local restaurants, food service establishments, bottle shops and community organizations, Corsair is also offering 750ml glass bottles to anyone in need. *Update: As of 3/22 Corsair says the demand outweighs the supply and they are now donating directly to hospitals.

THE BIG NAMES ANSWER THE CALL

Now that regulations have been lifted, industry powerhouses are joining the fight.

The Bacardi Corporation has partnered with Puerto Rico based manufacturer Olein Refinery to provide raw materials that will enable the production of more than 1.7 million units of 10-ounce hand sanitizer.

LVMH, owner of  brands like Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, as well as a range of perfumes, has also committed to the production of hand sanitizer.

Hand Sanitizer: TX Whiskey DistilleryTX Whiskey Distillery /Photo Credit: TX Whiskey Distillery

Pernod Ricard, the French drinks conglomerate, is involving its production sites around the world for the cause. Pernod Ricard USA is utilizing all of its manufacturing sites including their facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Smooth Ambler Spirits (Lewisburg, WV), Rabbit Hole Distillery (Louisville, KY) and TX Whiskey Distillery (Ft. Worth, TX) for sanitizer production. In Canada, the brand’s Hiram Walker & Sons Walkerville Distillery—which normally produces spirits such as J.P. Wiser’s, Lot No. 40 and dozens more—now includes sanitizer on its production line.

Additionally in France, the brand is donating 70,000 liters of pure alcohol to Laboratoire Cooper, a supplier to all pharmacies in France. The brand’s Spanish branch has partnered with Irish Distillers to donate sanitizer to the Health Service Executive in Ireland. Finally, in Sweden, the brand’s Absolut Vodka distillery is offering spirits to produce hand sanitizer for public health care. Even more from the brand’s affiliates in other parts of the world is expected to be announced in the coming days.

FILLING A NEED

Despite all of these brands stepping up to the plate, the demand is still growing. If you’re in need of sanitizer where you live, chances are that a distillery in your area is already in the process of making it. Greenhook, 451 Spirits, Brewdog, Kyrö, Dillon’s, Rock Town, Oregon Spirit Distillers, Boot Hill Distillery, and many, many more are already giving back (here is our handy live-updating list).

When faced with a crisis, these distilleries have stepped up—many while facing adversities themselves—to help their communities and the world at large. Remember that next time you’re contemplating a purchase.


With Distiller, you’ll always know what’s in the bottle before you spend a cent. Rate, Review, and Discover spirits. Head on over to Distiller, or download the app for iOS and Android today!

Want to enjoy Distiller ad-free? Join Distiller Pro today to support the Distiller platform and keep ads off of your screen.