Distilleries continue to make hand sanitizer
LANSDALE, Pa. — Pennsylvanians have increasingly headed to Boardroom, a Lansdale distillery where they know they can secure alcohol and alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Boardroom, like dozens of Mid-Atlantic distilleries, stepped in to fill a hand sanitizer void near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The distillery has now established a sanitizer division to respond to demand for the product, spokeswoman Joanne Jordan said.
Independent Spirits in Woolwich Township, N.J., has been working with UPS and Amazon, owner Terry Thomsen said.
Sagamore Spirits in Baltimore is selling 6,500 gallons to USDA processing facilities throughout the country, Maryland Distillers Guild spokeswoman Kelly Dudeck said.
The interest represents a new cleanliness consciousness of sorts, Dudeck said.
The University of Maryland Medical Center and other medical facilities have been among the biggest recipients in Maryland, she said.
The Alcohol & Tobacco Trade Bureau in March announced that tax-free ethanol could be used to produce hand sanitizers for medical facilities so long as the ethanol is “unconsumable.”
The ATTB during the pandemic is waiving regulations such as having to obtain formula approvals from the agency in instances where distilleries use one that is consistent with World Health Organization guidelines.
That recipe includes ethanol, or alcohol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, distillers said. The alcohol is 80 percent by volume, they said.
“It has a purity to it,” Thomsen said. “It doesn’t have all the chemicals in it that others do.”
Chris Weaver, owner of Hickory Hollow Farm in Finksburg, Md., is contracted with grain elevators as well as area distilleries to provide corn for alcoholic beverages.
He grows a little extra each year for either one.
This year’s excess corn went to the distilleries so that the farm’s local sales increased by 20 percent, he said.
Corn prices are meanwhile down by more than $1 per bushel as compared with last year, he said.
Independent Spirits calls itself a rare “grain to glass” distiller that mills its own corn, wheat, rye and barley on-site.
When distillers first responded to public demand for the sanitizing product, owner Thomsen said she sought out anything she had on hand.
Boardroom, which purchases and distills grains that are pre-milled, depended in part on a tanker of bad wine that it distilled to a greater clarity, spokesman Trent Mokes said.
“At the time, we were just doing what we had to do,” Thomsen said. “We gave a lot of it away.”
Curbside pickups drew hundreds of people to Independent Spirits each day, Thomsen said.
Her five-person distillery pumped out 250 gallons of sanitizer daily to accommodate them, she said.
Securing packaging was a challenge, and so distillers turned to plastic vape bottles, milk gallons and buckets.
Dudeck called the distillers unsung heroes.
Bulk hand sanitizer sales compensated somewhat for the freebies that distillers distributed to the community but not necessarily for declines in alcohol sales, Thomsen said.
Thomsen estimated that her alcohol sales are off by 50 percent.
A May 7 Nielsen report citing increased off-premise and Internet alcohol sales of as much as 234 percent in April 2020 as compared with April 2019 suggested that customers have been overlooking craft distillery products.
Rather than the espresso liqueur, gin and spicy white Russian vodka of Independent Spirits or the cranberry citrus and ginger-infused gins of Boardroom, Nielsen reported that customers have been purchasing boxed wines, 24- and 30-pack beers and 1.75-liter spirits from larger brands — think Smirnoff, Bacardi, Jack Daniels — that they know and trust.
Dan McNeill of MISCellaneous Spirits in Mount Airy, Md., lost just about all of his non-sanitizer business when farmers’ markets and festivals were canceled and bars and restaurants closed, he said.
The hand sanitizers “kept us open,” Mokes said, as an essential business and as a company that should stay in business for a while.
As long as people need sanitizer and Boardroom has the facilities to create it, the distillery is going to do that according to the guidelines provided, Jordan said.
The addition of hand sanitizers to Boardroom offerings “introduced us to a lot of people,” Mokes said. Sales of the product have since leveled off and alcohol sales picked up, he said.
Weaver said he continues to enjoy a 20 percent sales increase to distilleries.
Many small-scale distilleries don’t think they’d have a market for hand sanitizer based on costs and the volumes that they can produce, Dudeck said.
Representatives of distilleries such as Independent and Boardroom said they intend to restart facility tours when states give bars like those in their tasting rooms the green light to reopen.
State governments within the past month have meanwhile given alcoholic beverage providers the blessing to sell cocktails-to-go, and Boardroom and Independent have been doing just that.
“People used to come in and buy sanitizer,” Thomsen said. “Now they come in and buy alcohol and one little bottle of sanitizer. It feels almost normal.”
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