Last Saturday, Chad Butters, founder of Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in Pennsylvania, looked up hand sanitizer online and found Purell selling for $325 an ounce. It was right after he had finished reading an article in The New York Times about how profiteers were buying up thousands of dollars worth of hand sanitizer and selling it at outrageous markups. He knew immediately that he wanted to do something.
“With that knowledge of how people were taking advantage of that situation, we went back to our mission as a company. We’re all about trying to craft the spirit of community,” Butters says. “So we took stock of what are the pieces of equipment, what resources do we have and how do we use them. I figured we could produce hand sanitizer and give it to the people who desperately need it for free.”
As the United States grapples with the impact of COVID-19, hospitals around the country are frantically trying to stay ahead of the demand for basic hygienic supplies. And while some people may be hoarding masks and other essential materials, others are stepping up and rushing in to help. Over the last few days, distilleries from Green Mountain Distillers in Vermont to Old Fourth Distillery in Georgia are using high-proof alcohol to create much-deeded hand sanitizer.
“Large hospitals reached out because their supplies are drying up. We have pre-orders for 10,000 bottles already,” Butters says. “We’re getting contacted by all sorts of first responder services as well. The need is definitely out there and we’re going to run a couple of shifts a day to meet that demand.”
There are so many more good people out there than not. They don’t panic, but they understand that we have to work together with a sense of urgency to get this done.”
Butters plans to ask for modest donations for those who can afford to give them and to provide the bottles to donate as much as possible to nonprofit organizations including Cancer Support Community of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Since individuals with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to the effects of the Coronavirus, Butters wanted to be sure to do everything possible to help them.
In the process, he’s been amazed at just how many people have offered to help. Suppliers are providing materials at steep discounts. Lynn Elko, who runs Emma's Friends Soaps & Lotions, reached out to Butters and donated 5,000 plastic bottles to the operation.
“There are so many more good people out there than not,” Butters says. “They don’t panic, but they understand the seriousness of the situation and that we have to work together with a sense of urgency to get this done. I’m so grateful that everybody’s been so supportive.”
Over in Portland, Oregon, Shannon Mosley, distiller at Shine Distillery and Grill, came up with the idea as the spread of the pandemic was ramping up across the globe. She ordered aloe on Amazon, before checking in with the restaurant side of her operation to see if they might be able to use xanthan gum.
“There are so many DIY recipes online. We’re a very small operation here and I thought, ‘Let’s just do this,’” Mosley says. “John went to The Dollar Store and just started buying up travel-sized bottles. He called radio stations and said, ‘We’re just gonna give this away.’”
I’m making 10 gallons of hand sanitizer a day. What we’re really trying to do is give it to our community. All the stores are sold out and we want to help the people around us.”
So far, Mosley says she’s been blown away by the response. While Eight Oaks Farm Distillery has focused on reaching out to larger organizations, she prefers to keep her company’s impact as local as possible. Anyone who wants hand sanitizer is welcome to come by and grab a bottle for free.
“The first day, we gave away about 80 bottles and then the next day we gave away about 400. Every day since then we’ve been giving away at least 500 bottles,” Mosley says. “I’m making 10 gallons of hand sanitizer a day. What we’re really trying to do is give it to our community. All the stores are sold out of this and we want to help the people around us.”
For other distilleries, hand sanitizer offers a minor financial reprieve in a time of incredible strain. Fred Goth, owner of Prohibition Spirits Distillery in Sonoma, California, has been making hand sanitizer using ethanol and fragrant essential oils.
“Because we’re a distillery, we came out with scents that were craft cocktail-inspired. We have an old fashioned that smells sort of like orange, vanilla and wood. And then we have a French 75 with lemon and juniper,” Goth says. So we have a key lime margarita. We’ve got a piña colada too, since we were supposed to be in Cabo this week for spring break. The kids are bummed.”
Like many brewers and distillers, Goth is still struggling to process the fact that his tasting room will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Although he’s also been donating hand sanitizer, he hopes that the sales will help keep his small business afloat.
“They’re very reasonably priced and we’re giving a ton away,” Goth says. “It’ll help bridge the gap. The governor just said all tasting rooms are going to close, which is huge. How are all these small places going to survive without that?”