By Virginia Dean and Steven Seitz
In an effort to offset the lack of hand sanitizers in the state due to the coronavirus, many Vermont distilleries have begun to make their own.
“We’re on it,” said Mimi Buttenheim of Mad River Distillers, located in Waitsfield and Burlington. “We’ve been making small batches for people to fill their own bottles.”
Nobody will be allowed to hoard, Butenheim emphasized.
Mad River Distillers gave away 250 small bottles last Saturday and has poured through 10 gallons at the refill stations.
“Since we produce alcohol, we believe we have a responsibility to help the local community,” said Marketing and Communications Coordinator Isabelle Federico. “We cannot produce a lot of sanitizer but we can make a difference in our neighborhood.”
Mad River Distillers follows the World Health Organization (WHO) recipe that includes 96 percent or 2.2 gallons of ethanol or 99.8 percent or 2 gallons of isopropyl alcohol mixed with three percent or 1.76 cups of hydrogen peroxide (used to inactivate contaminating bacterial spores in the solution), 98 percent or 0.6 cups of glycerol (acts as a moisturizer), and sterile distilled or boiled cold water.
The distillers distributed the sanitizer last week at Mehuron’s Market and Mad River Taste Place in Waitsfield, Federico said. It was also distributed at its Burlington Tasting Room last Saturday, with more dates to come.
In Shelburne, Wild Hart Distillery, Inc. owner Craig Stevens said his company has just received final guidance from the federal government that will allow the making of the hand sanitizer.
“First and foremost, my original background is in public health, and this is the right thing to do, both making it and trying to make sure it gets to the highest risk persons,” said Stevens.
The Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has authorized the manufacture of hand sanitizer products consistent with WHO guidance, the formula of which Wild Hart will follow.
“National supplies of ingredients necessary for production are in short supply and some supplies are at an elevated price,” said Stevens. “But at this time for efficiency and safety, we’re using new glass bottles that are typically used for bottling our other products.”
Given its small supply, priority for distribution will be for high risk populations such as the medical professions, Stevens said.
In Morristown, Green Mountain Distillers has put out a five-gallon bucket of homemade sanitizer with a hand pump on top in the corner by the door of its tasting room.
Green Mountain Distillers owner Howie Faircloth askes that people take what they need and not anymore.
“There have already been people coming in with cases of mason jars – it’s not for resale,” said Faircloth.
The sanitizer is made from a byproduct of the distilling process by using its high-proof spirit alcohol and combining it with an organic aloe gel, Faircloth related. Some batches even contain an organic lemon extract.
The sanitizer is free, although the distillery welcomes donations of aloe gel.
In Windsor, SILO Distillery is also producing homemade hand sanitizer using vegetable glycerin and 180-190 proof ethanol, following the guidelines of WHO, according to Erin Bell, head spirits distiller/production manager.
The distillery is offering its sanitizer free to local food and beverage partners as well as up to 16 ounces to members of the public, asking individuals to bring their own containers if possible.
“We have provided over 100 gallons since last week to local area individuals as well as some nursing homes, companies and restaurants that are still doing take out,” said Bell. “We’re planning to ramp up production this week to make more as the demand grows exponentially every day.”
SILO made the decision to produce and distribute the product “because we can,” said Bell.
“It’s probably the one real thing we can do,” said Bell. “We know that right now people are scared and anxious, and they can’t get things they essentially need to take care of themselves and their loved ones or employees. This is not a cure. It doesn’t take the place of proper hygiene, hand washing or practicing smart distancing but it can put your mind at ease a little bit to have one more line of defense.”
Bell said she didn’t know how long SILO would be able to produce and distribute the product but would do so for as long as it can.
“Realizing demand was so high for so many crucial facilities and groups statewide is a daunting concept, and we have so far been doing it at our own cost,” said Bell. “We’re going to start to ask for a nominal fee for bulk orders soon, and we just put out a GoFundMe campaign to purchase more supplies and support the production staff.”
Some of the funds will go to buying more grain from farmers in order to make the ethanol from the grain and to support them so that they do not have to shut down altogether, Bell added.
To avoid standing in large groups, the distillery will meet customers in their cars or distribution will occur in small pick-up windows to minimize exposure to the staff. SILO is also allowing larger bulk pick-ups to facilities and companies by appointment only.
In Montpelier, Caledonia Spirits — the distiller of Barr Hill Gin, Barr Hill Vodka, and Tom Cat Gin — is also making, producing and delivering hand sanitizer to the Vermont Foodbank and individuals in need.
The distillery has committed to making hand sanitizer for first responders in Vermont. The state will pay Caledonia Spirits for their raw materials.
Smugglers’ Notch Distillery is also responding to help meet the statewide shortage.
“With the abrupt intrusion of COVI-19 in our lives, Smugglers’ Notch Distiller has turned its focus towards working on a solution to close the gap on the unavailability of preventive hygiene products that help ensure that our family and friends stay safe,” said co-owner Ron Elliott.
Other co-owner Jeremy Elliott added that the Smugglers’ Notch Distillery team “is a group of proud Vermonters, eager to be given an opportunity to help in our small way.”
“This is an unsettling moment in our history, and we are pivoting together quickly for community good,” he said.
Closer to home, in Quechee, Vermont Spirits is not getting on the bandwagon.
Lisa Bruce, a part-time employee working the front desk, said operations are shutting down. The company has a tasting room in a small plaza on U.S. Route 4.
“We’re not in production,” she said. “The Cabot store and the antique store are closed. Our distiller won’t be back until next week. Basically, we’re on hold.”
The American Craft Spirits Association has been encouraging its members “to help alleviate our national shortage of sanitizing solutions,” according to a company statement.
The organization has published several guidelines for producers, and holds webinars. For more info visit americancraftspirits.org/covid-19.