Distilleries using high-proof alcohol to make hand sanitizer

NEW TRIPOLI, Pa. — A Pennsylvania distillery owner who grew increasingly angry as he saw the skyrocketing price of hand sanitizer has decided to do something about it: He’s temporarily converting his operation into a production line for the suddenly hard-to-find, gooey, alcohol-based disinfectant.

Eight Oaks Farm Distillery filled its first 20 bottles on Monday, a batch destined for charitable groups that need hand sanitizer but haven’t been able to get it due to the coronavirus pandemic. The family-owned distillery plans to dramatically boost production this week and distribute the bottles to charities as well as offer them at farmers’ markets where it sells its spirits and through its website.

The price: whatever people decide to donate.

“We are in a national emergency,” said brewery founder Chad Butters. “What’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is support this community by providing something that is in desperate need. We’ll flood the valley with hand sanitizer and drive that price right down.”

Other distilleries are also putting their spirits to work to help fill the shortage of hand sanitizers. Green Mountain Distillers in Morrisville, Vermont, is giving away a hand sanitizing solution and Durham Distillery in Durham, North Carolina, is donating one to hospitality colleagues, using high-proof alcohol and other ingredients. Patrons must bring their own containers.

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Last week, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they had tested positive for COVID-19 after contracting it in Australia, where Hanks was filming a movie. 

"We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches," the Oscar-winning actor shared on Instagram. "Rita had some chills that came and went. Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive."

"Well, now. What to do next? The Medical Officials have protocols that must be followed. We Hanks’ will be tested observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?"

Idris Elba took to Twitter on Monday morning to announce that he, too, contracted the virus. The actor was at the same conference in Webley as Sophie Trudeau, who also tested positive. 

He shared with his fans:

"This morning I tested positive for Covid 19. I feel ok, I have no symptoms so far but have been isolated since I found out about my possible exposure to the virus. Stay home people and be pragmatic. I will keep you updated on how I’m doing. No panic.

Sophie Gregorie Trudeau, the wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, was announced to have tested positive for the virus last week. 

Her symptoms developed after attending a conference in Britain in early March. The prime minister is not showing symptoms and will not be tested, but will remain under quarantine.

Kristofer Hivju, best known for his role as Tormund on "Game of Thrones," took to Instagram on Monday to reveal he was self quarantining with his family in Norway.  

"We are in good health,” he wrote. “I only have mild symptoms of a cold. There are people at higher risk for who this virus might be a devastating diagnosis, so I urge all of you to be extremely careful; wash your hands, keep 1,5 meters distance from others, go in quarantine; just do everything you can to stop the virus from spreading.

Olga Kurylenko, who starred in the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” announced this weekend that she has contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. 

“I’ve actually been ill for almost a week now,” she wrote on Instagram. “Fever and fatigue are my main symptoms. Take care of yourself and do take this seriously!”

Donavan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, both players on the Utah Jazz basketball team, have tested positive for the virus. Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive, which prompted the suspension of the rest of the basketball season. 
Callum Hudson-Odoi, a forward for the Chelsea football team, tested positive for the virus, in addition to Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta. Following the announcement, all professional soccer games in England have been postponed. 
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“We wanted to do something that would be as positive as possible,” said Harold Faircloth, an owner of Green Mountain Distillers.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery, also in Vermont, plans to launch a hand sanitizer later this week at its Waterbury and Jeffersonville sites. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Vermont’s efforts to respond to the virus outbreak.

“I know I have a unique opportunity to help out a little bit and keep my staff employed,” said co-owner Jeremy Elliott, who said 40% of his business comes from bars and restaurants, which are closing in some parts of the country.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group, has been in touch with federal regulatory agencies as well as the Trump administration's coronavirus task force to clear red tape and “make sure we can be quick and nimble and fill a need in the marketplace,” said Chief Executive Officer Chris Swonger. “We all want to do our part.”

Swonger said government agencies have been very receptive.

At Eight Oaks Farm Distillery, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) north of Philadelphia, workers experimented with high-proof alcohol, aloe and glycerine to get just the right consistency. The recipe is based on one published by the World Health Organization.

As word got out about what Eight Oaks was up to, the distillery began hearing from people and groups in need, including a pediatric cancer organization and a woman whose 12-year-old son has heart disease and was desperate for hand sanitizer to help keep him safe.

“I cannot find it anywhere and this virus is especially dangerous to him,” she wrote to the distillery.

Stories like that are why Butters was so disgusted with price gougers who were selling sanitizer online for more than $300 an ounce — and why he decided to shift his company’s focus.

“We’re trying to make sure we continue to provide a paycheck for our employees and support our community however way we can do that,” he said.

For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Beyond the humanitarian impulses of individual distillers, the liquor industry also has a vested interest in seeing the virus threat dissipate quickly, given its economic reliance on bars, restaurants and other hospitality and entertainment venues that have been shuttered by the outbreak.

Brad Plummer, spokesman for the American Distilling Institute and editor of Distiller Magazine, said he’s been seeing a lot of talk among distillers interested in converting part of their operations to hand sanitizer.

“The hospitality industry is going to be decimated by this and they are our primary clients. We’re looking for ways to help in the response to this, but also to find other ways to look for revenue streams,” he said.

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