Hand Sanitizer Production Ramps Up At Whisk(e)y Distilleries Worldwide

As the impact of the coronavirus continues to be felt on a global level, one key tool that can be used to help slow the spread of disease is hand sanitizer. There has been a run on this at retail, however, and this, coupled with increased usage of it in medical settings, has resulted in a severe shortage. One industry that suddenly finds itself with capability to counter this are distilleries and their ability to produce high ABV alcohol that can be used as base for sanitizer.

Do a search on Google right now for distillery sanitizer and you’ll see this truly is a global movement, with distilleries large and small across multiple nations offering up their stills to produce this. It is particularly prevalent here in the United States as, with distilleries in pretty much every state already making whiskey and other spirits, it becomes somewhat easy to find local makers looking to help out.

Exactly how many are doing this domestically is not known, as the number is ever increasing, but at last estimate by the American Craft Spirits Association, more than 75% of craft distilleries are reporting that “they are ramping up efforts to help alleviate the national shortage of hand sanitizers and sanitizing solutions.”

One example of an area where sanitizer production is being bumped up rapidly is in Tennessee. The Tennessee Distillers Guild noted on Friday that its members are “banding together to pivot operations from whiskey-making and repurposing the alcohol for hand sanitizer and surface cleaner production in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Distillers are working rapidly to obtain ingredients necessary to produce sanitizing products in bulk due to supply shortages resulting from the pandemic.”

“We saw a need in our communities, and we are on a mission to make a difference,” said Kris Tatum, president of Tennessee Distillers Guild, in a prepared statement. “It’s a great feeling when competitors collectively decide to put profits aside and jointly decide to support the communities which have made us successful in the first place.”

Wilderness Trail hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer being made at Wilderness Trail in Kentucky (image via Wilderness Trail)

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Wilderness Trail is but one example of a Kentucky whiskey maker becoming busy using its ethanol to help local medical providers. In this case it plans to produce 500 gallons of it a week for the next six to seven weeks, at the minimum.

“As we all know, Wilderness Trail Distillery has been a huge economic addition to Danville and Boyle County,” noted Danville, Kentucky Mayor Mike Perros, where Wilderness Trail is based. “As we all know, Wilderness Trail Distillery has been a huge economic addition to Danville and Boyle County. Now, they are showing they provide more than just tourism and business.

“They are using their talents to benefit the health and safety of our citizens by providing, free of charge, hand sanitizers to area hospitals, nursing homes and first responders. How lucky are we that they thought of this? I’m sure it was not part of their original business plans!”

Also, looking to help out on this front in Hawaii, is Oahu-based Ko‘olau Distillery (makers of Old Pali Road Whiskey). Last week they made the decision to “shift production to begin supplying hand sanitizer for critical services.” This will be provided “free of charge to first responders, health workers, and essential civil service personnel.”

“We realized that we are in the unique position to be able to help our community in this way; we are able to both make Old Pali Road whiskey AND produce hand sanitizer that meets WHO standards so that we can help our greater ‘ohana through this unprecedented situation,” said Ko‘olau Distillery CEO Eric Dill.

Looking further afield, one finds spirits giants such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard turning their vast number of distilleries towards hand sanitizer production as. For the former, this means a global pledge to the “creation of more than eight million bottles of hand sanitiser, by donating up to two million litres of alcohol to manufacturing partners, to help protect frontline healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.”

“Healthcare workers are at the forefront of fighting this pandemic and we are determined to do what we can to help protect them,” said Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive of Diageo. “This is the quickest and most effective way for us to meet the surging demand for hand sanitiser around the world.”

Pernod Ricard, for its part, has whiskey distilleries as diverse as Ireland-based Irish Distillers (makes of Jameson) and the giant’s USA whiskey makers (Rabbit Hole (Kentucky), Smooth Ambler (West Virginia) and TX Whiskey (Texas)) producing sanitizer for their respective regional areas.

“As the world is facing a major pandemic, companies must mobilise, not only to ensure the safety of their employees, but also to contribute to collective efforts in accordance with their capabilities,” said Alexandre Ricard, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Pernod Ricard. “By sharing our resources and making our production facilities available wherever they are needed, we are supporting our fellow citizens and local authorities. I would like to thank our employees who have worked hard to make everything possible in record time, all over the world.”


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