Jeanne O'Brien Coffey
March 26, 2020
If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a good stiff drink. And if there is a second thing we all need right now is hand sanitizer. So in a way, the craft distillery boom in recent years is a boon to us all – both things in one place. Caledonia Spirits, a Montpelier-based distillery was one of the early ones to see that connection.
“It was the first thing that crossed our minds when we learned that there was a need among first responders, food pantries, and others,” says Caledonia Spirits VP of Marketing Harrison Kahn. “While we’re continuing to make gin, we’ve essentially turned our distillery into a hand-sanitizer factory. We want to keep making it as long as there is a need.”
While alcohol was no problem, sourcing glycerin and small bottles has been a bit trickier – and if anyone wants to donate, they’re happy to accept. “We’re inviting anyone who has any additional sourcing ideas to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from them,” Kahn says. “As a distillery, we’re making the alcohol, and we’re working as hard as we can to source as much glycerin and as many small bottles as possible.”
The hardest part of this is figuring out how to distribute it safely and pay for the raw materials, Kahn says, “while we continue to keep our entire staff, even those who are home, on payroll with full benefits.” To that end, the distillery is accepting donations on their web site. People can "purchase" hand sanitizer at barrhill.com, but instead of the customer getting hand sanitizer, it will be donated to a local healthcare professional.
When they aren’t making hand sanitizer, Caledonia Spirits makes Barr Hill Gin, Tom Cat Gin, and Barr Hill Vodka— available in 32 states. Each of its flagship spirits is made with raw northern honey, producing a floral, slightly sweet flavor profile that is unique within the gin and vodka categories. Last year, Caledonia Spirits moved into a brand-new, solar-powered distillery near downtown Montpelier.
Caledonia isn’t alone – also in New England, Salem, N.H.-based Fabrizia Spirits is making its own line of lemon-scented hand sanitizer, after immediately shifting its focus from all-natural limoncello and ready-to-drink craft cocktails. The first 3,000 bottles, made with real lemons, were donated to first responders and health care facilities in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and the company intends to continue making donations as long as it is producing hand sanitizer. Excess after filling local donation needs will also be available in 8-ounce and 4-ounce bottles for purchase at local Market Basket supermarkets.
“Shifting our focus allows us to make a positive impact on the people who are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19,” said Phil Mastroianni, co-founder and owner, Fabrizia Spirits. “Producing our own hand sanitizer, which we are doing at cost, allows us to stay open and keep staff employed in an extremely uncertain time.”
Likewise, brands like Treaty Oak Distilling (maker of Treaty Oak Whiskey and Waterloo Gin and Bendt Distilling Co., both in Texas, has shifted gears. Bendt is making free hand sanitizer for their employees, customers, local law enforcement, first responders, Meals on Wheels volunteers and nearby businesses.
And in New York State, Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett will be opening its doors for locals to bring in their own empty bottles to be filled with bulk batches of house-made hand sanitizer. Taking advantage of their tasting room closing, the sanitizer will be made from beverage-grade spirits currently in stock at the distillery.
Globally, Bacardi Limited shifted production at eight of its distilleries across the globe to produce hand sanitizer for local communities. Spirits brands within the Bacardi Limited portfolio such as Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, and Bacardi rum are diverting production power and resources to produce more than 267,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. The spirits company is also helping to donate these products to local communities, including to non-profits and organizations, emergency responders, and Bacardi Limited employees and contractors.
At Caledonia, they are intending to continue with the new product for as long as necessary. “Given the need for hand sanitizer, we’re shipping it as soon as we make it,” Kahn says, noting they haven’t really kept track of how much they’ve made. “While we don’t have an exact tally, we just recently partnered with the State of Vermont to make 1,500 more units for first responders. We’re sourcing glycerin from local health and beauty manufacturers, as well as anywhere else we can find it.”