Delaware Distilleries Brewing Up Solution to Hand Sanitizer Shortage
May 7, 2020 -
How prepared the United States was to combat the sudden onset of COVID-19 is a matter of some debate. But, what’s beyond question is that businesses across the country have risen to the defense of their fellow Americans by pivoting production toward filling shortages of desperately needed supplies.
It’s been no different here in Delaware. One of the first industries to leap into the fray was Delaware distilleries. Though you can count them on one hand, Delaware’s distilleries have quickly retooled and are pumping out hand sanitizer to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Interestingly, an activity that would have earned them a quick visit from a regulator back in non-crisis times has now become a crucial function.
“As distilleries, we're not typically legally allowed to make hand sanitizer, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) loosened up their regulations so we could help fill this need that is in our communities right now,” said Smyrna’s Painted Stave Distilling co-owner Mike Rasmussen. “They require us to use a formulation designed by the World Health Organization that can be made anywhere in the world in emergency situations.”
A mix of ethanol, water, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, the product ends up being around 80% alcohol to ensure it’s strong enough to kill viruses on contact, said Rasmussen.
With the goal of supplying local first responders, fellow distillery owner Ron Gomes said they felt a strong motivation to use their technical know-how and facility to help.
“Mike and I got into business to help our community rise and prosper,” he said. “It's natural for us, part of who we are, to want to help. We've been stepping up, with the support of our families and friends, since day one. We've invested and sacrificed too much in our community to stand by idly and watch it struggle and suffer.”
By mid-April, they’d distributed roughly 1,650 gallons to essential agencies like police departments, firehouses and hospitals with another 1,300 gallons ready to push out. Not sure yet if they’ll make their hand sanitizer available to the public, they’re focusing on supplying crucial agencies for as long as that need exists. At present, that demand doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, said Gomes.
“We've received inquiries for 10- and 20-fold our current production,” he added.
Marissa Cordell, owner of EasySpeak Spirits in Milford, had a personal reason for starting to produce hand sanitizer in early March.
“My father-in-law was in the hospital, and they couldn't find hand sanitizer anywhere, so we decided to make some for him,” she said.
Cordell quickly learned that there was a nationwide need. She halted production on everything her distillery was making and switched over to hand sanitizer.
“We've had to use our small-batch alcohol that typically sells at our bar and liquor stores as craft spirits for hand sanitizer,” she said. “Staff has been working around the clock. We’re also using all of our fermenter space and all of our still time for this instead of making our bourbon, vodka, rum and gin.”
Focusing on production, Cordell says anyone who needs hand sanitizer can come to the distillery and pick it up curbside.
“Our customers are everyone in the state of Delaware – Beebe Healthcare, the Amazon distribution facility, healthcare businesses and construction companies – you name it, we’ve made them hand sanitizer,” she said. “We currently only have smaller sizes available, but they change weekly due to extreme shortages in packages. Our recent packaging has been 6-ounce spray bottles for $6.”
Beach Time Distilling has been producing hand sanitizer for postal workers and first responders and delivering them in 1-gallon cans. Dogfish Head is working directly with the state to deliver bulk supplies of sanitizer.
“I never thought Dogfish Head would be in the sanitizer business,” said Sam Calagione, found of Dogfish Head, in a press release. “But this is a time of crisis, and necessity is the mother of invention. It is our duty to do what we can to keep as many people safe and healthy in our community.”
The brewery noted it is selling sanitizer directly to the state at market rates with 100 percent of the profits going into a fund to support Delawareans affected by COVID-19.
Speaking for all businesses, Cordell said she’s been happy to help – especially since everyone has a stake in the outcome.
“It’s times like these that it's important for our community to remember that we’re all in this together,” she said. “And, we all need a shoulder to lean on.”