Distilleries' switch from booze to hand sanitizer fights coronavirus and keeps workers on payroll

By KYW Newsradio 1060
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LANSDALE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Many craft distilleries throughout the country, including several in the Philadelphia region, are transitioning from fine spirit production to making FDA-approved hand sanitizer.

It's not only helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 — it's also keeping people employed.

When Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to cease operations in Pennsylvania about a week ago, Boardroom Spirits, a craft distillery in Lansdale, says it took an immediate hit. Employees got layoff notices as management searched for revenue options.

"Lo and behold, our distiller was digging around the internet and saw the idea of making hand sanitizer, because it was in dire need for the entire world," said Boardroom Spirits Sales Manger Robert Burke.

The sanitizer's main ingredient is ethanol, which is also used in making spirits, so Burke said it wasn't a big stretch to make the switch.

Jared Adkins, founder of Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville, said they got a simple formula from the World Health Organization and made the switch pretty easily. "Really, the main problem we have been having is sourcing other ingredients, such as peroxide, glycerin and plastic bottles," Adkins said. "With this crisis going on, everything has just been sold out."

Adkins offers this fun fact: "It actually takes around 18.75 pounds of grain to make one gallon of sanitizer."

He says there is a huge demand, and many of the clients include ambulance services, senior centers, hospitals, police stations and energy companies.

"It really has been surreal to have ambulances pulling up to the side of the building and just transporting the sanitizer right out to them," Adkins said.

Besides being good for business, the sanitizer operation has allowed distilleries to keep their workers on the payroll.

"We have been able to bring back every employee that we had to lay off a week ago," said Boardroom Spirits' Burke. "We are absolutely thrilled with this process. ... We are actually on the verge of getting ready to hire more. That's how that's how high the demand is for this product currently."

Boardroom Spirits is giving away free 4 oz. containers of hand sanitizer at its distillery and selling it in bulk to essential businesses.