High-Proof Hands

Virginia distilleries are turning their spirits into sanitizers to fill national shortage.

Distillers around Virginia are stepping up in the fight against the coronavirus, using their alcohol supply to churn out vast amounts of hand sanitizer. It may not be the silky, scented gel disinfectant you’re used to, but it’s going a long way to help combat the national shortage of the product.

“Early in this crisis, we realized that we could help,” says Scott Harris with Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville. A distillery, he says, is in a unique position to step in. “We already have permits and equipment for dealing with alcohol. We, therefore, had a moral responsibility to turn our business upside down and begin providing hand sanitizer. So we did.”

 Courtesy of Catoctin Creek.

Early into the pandemic, Harris was sitting on about 60 gallons of disposal alcohol from the production of whisky and gin. Usually, this alcohol is used for cleaning or it is shipped to an alcohol-recycler who processes it as ethanol for gasoline production. “This non-drinkable waste alcohol was the accumulation of six months of production, so we began giving this away for free,” Harris says. 

Since, Catoctin Creek Distillery has donated free sanitizing alcohol to over 100 families, six police stations, two emergency services, two medical clinics, a senior care facility, and the FAA operations center in Leesburg.

Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery in Middleburg has produced about 20 gallons of hand sanitizer with ethanol they had on hand, says owner Peter Ahlf. FDA regulations require that the ethanol be “denatured”–which means adding something to it that makes it unpalatable–and the easiest approved method is to add isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, which is difficult to find in stores these days, just like hydrogen peroxide, another ingredient in the sanitizer. “We put out a call to list services in D.C. and Northern Virginia for people to donate these ingredients,” says Ahlf. “The response has been great. We have enough of these two ingredients now to produce at least 100 gallons of hand sanitizer.”

Courtesy of Old House Vineyards.

In Culpeper, Ryan Kearney of Old House Vineyards has been working behind the scenes with the county administration to produce bottles for the community’s first responders, sanitation workers, “and all who are still needing to be interacting with the community on a day to day basis.” Earlier this week, Kearney shipped out a first batch of 5,000 bottles. “We are bottling about 1,200 six-ounce bottles a day and plan to bottle 30,000 bottles over the next month,” Kearney says. 

About 40 miles south in Charlottesville, Vitae Spirits Distillery is putting out about 10 gallons of sanitizers a day. Owner Ian Glomski says that one of his major worries is scalpers trying to resell his product for profit. “We see ourselves performing a public service right now, so our price for the sanitizer is at cost, which is $25 per gallon, for the time being,” Glomski says. “Meanwhile, the market is charging $500, so unscrupulous individuals see a huge potential profit if they can get their hands on our cheap hand sanitizer and then sell it on the free market, while we see it as something close to being a donation for the public good with minimal financial gain on our end,” he says. 

In Fredericksburg, A. Smith Bowman Distillery, the state’s oldest continuing distillery,  has been working over the past two weeks to produce a limited supply of hand sanitizer. “This product was created specifically for donation to several high-risk groups in our community, including first responders and law enforcement agencies, government agencies, charitable entities, and healthcare providers,” says master distiller Brian Prewitt. “So far we have distributed most of the sanitizer to the numerous groups in Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties that reached out to us, and the remaining supply has been claimed and will be picked up this week. Helping the helpers in our community was our only goal for this effort.”

Belle Isle Production Line

Courtesy of Belle Isle Craft Spirits. Kate Magee Joyce | Kate Magee Photography

Richmond’s Belle Isle Moonshine has partnered with VCU Health to produce hand sanitizer for use and distribution across the hospital’s network. “Over the next few weeks, we will use the ethanol base of our premium moonshine to produce 3,000 bottles, which we are then donating to VCU Health directly,” says Vince Riggi, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “It’s been amazing to see so many craft distilleries step up to answer the call and fill the current gap. During trying times like these, everyone needs to do their part and we’re just playing a small role in a larger effort,” Riggi says. 

Davis Valley Distillery in Smyth County is also aiding help efforts, albeit in a different way. “We are making the 160 proof alcohol for hand sanitizers being put together at other distilleries,” says Barry Ratih, manager of operations. The company has shipped 600 gallons to End of Days Distillery in Wilmington, NC, and is in the process of working with Cape Fear Distillery in Elizabethtown, NC, as well as Big Storm Brewery in Clearwater, Florida. 

Similarly, Ian Ginger, the executive director of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, reports that he’s been working to connect member breweries who have out of code beer with distilleries who are making sanitizer. “Most breweries don’t have the facilities to make sanitizer,” says Ginger, “but they may be able to provide ingredients. We’re working with stakeholders to get a sense of our capacity to provide ingredients and to produce.”

In Rocky Mount, Twin Creeks Distillery has set up a curbside team, allowing the public to pull up and fill their own bottles with the company’s in-house produced sanitizer, limited to 4 ounces per person. “We divide and conquer between our small team, five of us, to distribute safely within the community and surrounding areas,” says Anna Prillman, who normally oversees the tasting room. “Businesses also have the option to pick up curbside during our open hours. All is donation based and not for profit,” she says.

Courtesy of Dida’s Distillery.

Across the state in Rappahannock, Allan Delmare of Dida’s Distillery has been supporting local organizations and services that are currently out of hand sanitizer. “We’re beginning with the local emergency, healthcare, and public services–once we’ve assured that they’re supplied, we’ll be donating to local community organizations, businesses providing critical services to the public,” Delmare says.

And in Newport News, Ironclad Distillery has so far produced 400 gallons of hand sanitizer. “We were using our regular bourbon mash but instead of distilling it at 130-140 proof range, we have made a few changes and now distill it at a much higher proof around 180-190 proof,” says distiller Owen King. “We are unbelievably grateful that we are able to help people out in this time of need.”


Distilleries Making Hand Sanitizer

Note: This list was accurate as of 4/2/20. Have we left someone off? Send us an email and we’ll add them right away. Not all distilleries are distributing their hand sanitizer to the public; please visit their websites or Facebook pages for information. Many craft beverage makers are also open for curbside pickup of your favorite spirits, beer, wine, and cider; please support them if you are able. 

A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Fredericksburg

Belle Isle Moonshine, Richmond

Belmont Farm Distillery, Culpeper

Blue Sky Distillery, Carrollton

Caiseal Beer & Spirits (aka, The Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery), Hampton

Catoctin Creek Distillery, Purcellville

Chesapeake Bay Distillery, Virginia Beach

Copper Fox Distillery, Williamsburg

Davis Valley Distillery, Smyth County

Dida’s Distillery, Huntly

Eight Shires Distillery, Williamsburg

Falls Church Distillers, Falls Church

Filibuster Barrels, Maurertown

Franklin County Distilleries, Boones Mill

Ironclad Distillery, Newport News

James River Distillery, Richmond

KO Distilling, Manassas

Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery, Middleburg

MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, Bristow

Old House Vineyards, Culpeper

R.D. Wilhelm Distillery, Norfolk

Ragged Branch Distillery, Charlottesville

Reservoir Distillery, Richmond

Silverback Distillery, Afton

Spirit Lab Distilling, Charlottesville

Springfield Distillery, Halifax County

Tarnished Truth Distillery, Virginia Beach

Three Brothers’ Distillery, Disputanta

Three Crosses Distilling Co., Powhatan

Twin Creeks Distillery, Rocky Mount 

Virginia Distillery Co., Lovingston

Vitae Spirits Distillery, Charlottesville  

Waterbird Spirits, Charlottesville

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