Distilleries Are the Newest Players in the Hand Sanitizer Game

Source: By Kate Krader, Bloomberg • Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Scents include piña colada and margarita.

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Source: Shine Distillery & Grill

Earlier in March, Tito’s warned the public not to use its vodka for homemade versions because it didn’t meet the 60% alcohol requirement. But that hasn’t stopped small-batch distilleries in the U.S. and the U.K. from doing their part to pitch in on the effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. They are uniquely equipped to make hand sanitizer because the most effective germ-fighting ones are generally made with a base of 60%-plus alcohol, a product that distilleries have in abundance.

Beyond that, basic recipes include aloe vera for moisturizing; distilleries will also add the botanicals or flavorings from their signature spirits as a twist. Portland, Ore.-based Shine Distillery & Grill isn’t treating its formula like a trade secret. “I have fielded some calls from Seattle and suggested they contact their local distilleries to tell them what we are doing,” says general manager Ryan Ruelos. “Because any distillery can do it.”

The one thing they cannot do, though, is sell their sanitizers: Sales of distilled spirits are strictly regulated by the government and could jeopardize business licenses. Instead, distilleries are giving them away to customers who come through their doors. In some cases, such as at Psychopomp Microdistillery in Bristol, England, donations from customers who take the sanitizer are being given to charity.

Naval Gin Sanitizer

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New York Distilling’s Perry’s Tot gin (right) and the sanitizer it inspired. Source: New York Distilling Co.

Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Co. has begun using its straight-from-the-still Perry’s Tot Navy Strength gin to make sanitizer, which it’s given out to area restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. (New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday night that the city’s bars and restaurants will close, except for pickup and delivery services.) The recipe is simple: two parts uncut gin with one part aloe vera; the scent is of juniper berries and citrus.

Shine Hand Cleaner

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Shine Distillery has had to impose a limit on the number of sanitizers customers can purchase. Source: Shine Distillery & Grill

Ever since Shine Distillery & Grill opened in Portland, Ore., in July, its distiller and owner Jon Poteet had been using “gin heads” (leftovers from the distillation process) to clean the property. In March, Shine began bottling the product. Demand has been so high with customers from all over Oregon, says general manager Ruelos, that it’s imposed a limit of two bottles per person.

Coco Rum Sanitizer

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Housemade coconut extract makes Potomac’s sanitizer smell tropical. Source: Potamac Distillery

Washington mixologist Todd Thrasher, who runs Potomac Distillery and Tiki TNT on the Wharf, makes his sanitizer with a combination of coconut oil, tea tree extract, and his house 140-proof rum. (Note: Tiki TNT is temporarily closed because of coronavirus restrictions in the nation’s capital.) “We were going through so many wipes we could not keep up with the demand, so we decided to make our own and looked to what ingredients they use on the islands,” says Thrasher. You can practically drink it, he says. “But don’t.”

Key Lime Margarita Sanitizer

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Prohibition’s sanitizers are named for cocktails. Source: Prohibition Spirits

In California, Sonoma County-based Prohibition Spirits produces an array of distilled beverages including whiskey, rum, brandy, and the house special, limoncello. Owner Fred Groth has created three “flavors“ of sanitizer that evoke popular cocktails: key lime margarita, Old-Fashioned, and piña colada. Their scent is of the drinks, not sharp alcohol.

Gin Sanitizer

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Psychopomp started making sanitizer when their local stores ran out. Source: Psychopomp Microdistillery

The Psychopomp Microdistillery produces about 15,000 liters of gin annually. In early March it started producing hand sanitizers when local stores were sold out. This version is made with botanicals that are also featured in its gin, as well as 65% ethanol. “A limiting factor is finding the time to make sanitizer instead of gin,” says co-founder Danny Walker. Psychopomp is producing about 2 liters of sanitizer per day at a cost of roughly £20 ($25) per liter. Walker asks customers to donate to the local children’s hospital in lieu of payment.