When Live Gives You Lemons

The Nation's Distilleries Are Making Hand Sanitizer and Giving It Away

Of all the items currently in short supply, hand sanitizer is probably the most important. While it shouldn’t take the place of hand washing, a solution of at least 70% ethanol will kill 99.9% of germs on your hands as well as on hard surfaces. The shortage isn’t due to a problem in the supply chain, but rather to a situation where demand suddenly overwhelmed supply.

The nation’s distilleries are jumping into the battle to keep America safe by voluntarily producing using the beverage-grade alcohol that comes off their stills to produce hand sanitizer. During the process, they’re following official government guidelines on the correct combination of ethanol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and sterile water. In many cases they are making the product available free of charge to hospitals, first responders and high-risk individuals; some small, local operations are allowing residents to bring in containers for a free refill.

By doing so, they’re taking a double hit: in addition to foregoing profit on the sanitizer itself, they’re also losing the revenue they would normally make on their spirits. The first large company to jump in was Pernod Ricard USA, which is using facilities in Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas that would normally turn out bottles of Kahlua and Absolut Vodka. Many of the famous bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, such as Evan Williams, Angel’s Envy and Woodford Reserve, are also participating. Beverage giant Diageo has pledged to donate two million liters of alcohol to their manufacturing partners, enough to make more than eight million bottles of sanitizer.

Less visible are the dozens of craft distillers around the country who have joined the movement. As of last week, more than 60 of them had stepped forward to volunteer, including two in Florida (St. Augustine Distillery and Copper Bottom in Holly Hill). Motives range from humanitarian to patriotic. Savage and Cooke Distillery, owned by Napa winemaker Dave Phinney, is located on California’s Mare Island, where the Navy has been protecting the state’s coastline since the middle of the 19th century.

“It is now our turn to continue that legacy,” said Phinney.


Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He has written several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His two novels, Friend of the Devil and The American Crusade, are available on amazon.com.

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