Local spirit-makers shifting to make hand sanitizer
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Many local distilleries are stepping up and applying their craft to help address the urgent need in communities on the shortage of hand sanitizer.
Operators have begun using their facilities to produce batches of hand sanitizer instead of beverages. Their expertise is still used to make alcohol, which is then watered down and combined with glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and a denaturing agent to manufacture hand sanitizer that meets Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
“I’m still distilling the same alcohol that we would consume, it’s just at a higher proof, and once we mix the glycol to it, it’s not drinkable after that,” said Dave McGlothern, owner of Bad Dog Distillery in Arlington. “It’s the same operation, same big stills.”
As of last week, McGlothern, a Snohomish High School graduate, has made about 400 gallons of the sanitizer and helped supply the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, North County Fire, a clinic in Everett and multiple hospitals, he said.
“For a while there I was just donating this stuff and then we decided we better start charging for this because we’re going to run out of funds,” he said. Some of it is now available to the general public at their storefront.
The biggest challenge has been trying to find enough containers, so McGlothern had to turn to a new source. “Those dollar stores have been pretty handy right now,” he said.
The whiskey distillery already had the rye grain it uses as a base for alcohol. He said that the owners of Skookum Brewery subsequently pitched in and donated the malt he was lacking for the process.
Demand for the ingredients necessary to make sanitizer has exploded, leaving some distilleries waiting to ramp up their efforts. Ernest Troth at James Bay Distillers, in Everett, said that he’s encountered problems trying to get the grain neutral spirits they will be using because much of the supply has already been promised to larger operations.
“The industrial version that comes from the larger producers is facing a shortage, no shipments until the end of May, no new customers and prices are three times what they were,” Troth said.
In the meantime, he has started to distill 230 gallons of beer in their tank that can be used to collect the alcohol content from it. Troth said he hopes to have the beer turned into hand sanitizer by the end of April. James Bay Distillers will distribute it to law enforcement, first responders and hospitals.
One of the biggest challenges has been understanding the FDA process and requirements, Troth said. Despite the hassle of navigating a bureaucratic procedure in order to be registered as a drug manufacturer, he’s focusing on community needs.
“We’re helping as we can, we’re not the largest producer, but we figure many hands make light work and if we can do a little bit to help somebody else, that’s what we want to do,” Troth said.
Skip Rock Distillers in Snohomish also wants to begin producing hand sanitizer, if not for a key ingredient.
”Getting ethanol is our limiting item right now otherwise we’ll be able to produce 30,000 to 40,000 liters worth of sanitizer based on the other ingredients we have secured,” co-owner Ryan Hembree said last week.
Bryan Karrick, co-owner of Scratch Distillery in Edmonds with wife Kim, said his company typically prides itself on making their own alcohol from start to finish, rather than purchasing bulk grain neutral spirits. But he recently came to a new realization in the current reality.
Without access to bulk alcohol, Kim Karrick was able to tap her connections in the beer and wine industry to locate unsold product that would otherwise have to be “slushed” and wasted.
They recently received 1,100 gallons of beer from Elysian Brewing and have also received product donations from area winemakers. They have been gleaning the alcohol off of the beverages and producing sanitizer in one-liter bottles and five-gallon tubs.
The Washington Distillers Guild has been helping to coordinate the efforts of many local operations statewide.
Bryan Karrick said that Mhairi Voelsgen, president of the distillers’ guild and CEO of broVo Spirits in Woodinville, has been an invaluable resource during this process. He estimates that his sanitizer production would probably be two weeks behind without her help. The guild also designed and printed 10,000 FDA-compliant labels that it has been giving out to distillers.
“She’s trying to match up the people that are making it with the nongovernmental organizations and municipalities that are closest to us,” he said. “She’s had great leadership and she’s done just a killer job of getting everybody organized and helping us.”
First responder agencies can ask for sanitizer by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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