Hudson Valley Distilleries Make Hand Sanitizer to Fight the Shortage

Photo courtesy of Cooper’s Daughter

More than a dozen of Hudson Valley’s distilleries anticipated a busy spring, making and selling craft spirits from gin and bourbon to whiskey, and vodka infused with local apples and flavors. Instead, many are closed and have had to furlough most of their staff. Taking this financial hit in stride, a handful have stepped up and are now giving back to the community during the COVID-19 crisis. They are switching over all or part of their operations to distilling hand sanitizer or antiseptic for cleaning purposes for first-line responders, health care professionals, and those at high risk.

Distilling is a storied tradition and dating back to colonial times, farmers distilled spirits to get extra mileage out of fruit and grain crops. Today, New York State has the highest concentration of distilleries of states east of Mississippi, according to the New York State Distillers Guild.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, The Vale Fox Distillery in LaGrange is one that has redirected its resources and efforts towards producing hand sanitizer, supplying it to hospitals, first responders, and the supply chain to benefit essential businesses. Working with first responders and hospitals, the distillery will sell the sanitizer at a cost that works for them and in a week or so, it will begin selling to the public at cost plus an extra 25 cents per ounce, which is earmarked as donations to local restaurants and bars that have been hit hard as people increasingly are sheltering at home.

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Founder and Managing Principal Eral Gokgol-Kline says, “Historically, distilleries have risen to the occasion in a world crisis. During WWII, most distilleries were repurposed to produce industrial strength alcohol that was used to make antifreeze, plastics, lacquer and medical supplies for use in the Southern Pacific,’ he says. “Most importantly, distilleries quickly began producing massive quantities of the vital and life-saving antibiotic – penicillin.”

Photo courtesy of Cooper’s Daughter

Cooper’s Daughter Spirits at Olde York Farm in Hudson began making hand sanitizer in mid-March after hearing of the shortage and as soon as the World Health Organization issued guidelines and licensing boards expedited the process, allowing distillers to legally make sanitizer. Co-owner Sophie Newsome said they have made 50 gallons so far and are planning on making another 150 gallons over the next two weeks.

The technical process to making hand sanitizer from the byproducts of the distilling process is unique and very technical. “It is very important for consumers to know that distillers across America that are producing hand sanitizer are using very high proof alcohol that would have otherwise have been used to make larger quantities of bottles to sell for consumption,” Newsome says. “The hand sanitizer requires 80% volume/volume ethanol, which is essentially the same as very high proof vodka. The other products needed to make the hand sanitizer have proven to be difficult to come by. We have been lucky enough to receive generous donations of glycerin and hydrogen peroxide from Subversive Brewing along with a few bottles from community members.”

The distiller is also buying some supplies off the internet when available. “The price gouging for these products is disheartening, but the generosity of businesses and community members has been truly amazing,” she says. A local business, Next Gen Signs, has agreed to donate the labels needed for the hand sanitizer and the distillery also received a donation of 5,000 plastic bottles (otherwise impossible to find) from Pretium Packaging.

Vale Fox Distillery. Photo by Robert Rodriguez Jr.

Among about a dozen community groups the distillery has donated hand sanitizer to are the Hudson, Claverack and Cairo, Greenville, Hillsdale and Taghkanic fire departments, Greene County 9111 and other emergency responders. Depending on the availability of supplies, they will keep making sanitizer during the covid-19 crisis.

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“We could make 2,000 bottles a week at this point, but it comes down to being able to get the supplies needed to do that. Everything is done by hand. We are a small family-operated business,” Newsome says. “There are no fancy bottlers or labeling machines. We want to help as many people as possible and do our part to flatten the curve.”

Toward that end, there is a Go Fund Me page on its website to collect donations to purchase products to make more sanitizer with a small percentage helping support its furloughed staff members to supplant unemployment until they are safely able to return to work.

Hudson Valley Distillers in Clermont is about to make its debut in the sanitizer business after managing to scrape up other needed materials like glycerol, says co-founder Chris Moyer. “I have not been able to make any yet, but I have enough alcohol on hand to make about 100 gallons,” he says. “I could make about 600 liters a week at full capacity. It takes me a day to mill and mash, five days to ferment, and a day to distill, so about seven days for each batch. Of course, we have multiple batches in process at any given time.”

Orange County Distillery in Goshen and New Hampton announced on Facebook it is donating all its hand sanitizer to the local Emergency Services Center in Goshen, which already has a distribution system in place and is in direct contact with those in dire need. “With the state on a mandatory ‘Stay-At-Home’ status, except for essential businesses and employees, we want to directly help those people on the front lines,” it wrote.

Photo courtesy of Taconic Distillery

Instead of sanitizer, the Albany Distilling Company is making antiseptic product to decontaminate surfaces. “We are going to be producing exclusively for health institutions, nursing homes, EMS, fire departments and other public-facing health organizations facing shortages or who are otherwise in dire need,” it says on its Facebook page. “These products will be donated to experts in the health and emergency fields who are on the front lines helping to contain and treat COVID-19.”

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Taconic Distillery in Stanfordville is also not making sanitizer, instead distilling high proof alcohol that can be used to disinfect or made into sanitizer. It has already sent donations to local fire and EMS departments and just did a big batch for the Dutchess County Emergency Response Center. “It’s the right thing to do,” says founder Paul J. Coughlin. “If they keep asking, we’ll keep doing.”

Photo courtesy of Dennings Point Distillery

Dennings Point Distillery in Beacon gave away its first batch of sanitizer to the Beacon community March 21 as well as to the local police and fire departments. That batch equalled about 30 gallons and came from byproducts the distillery had on hand. Even after laying off all its staff save one full-timer, and buying more products, the distillery will distribute another batch of sanitizer this Saturday, says co-founder Karl Johnson. He explained they have the capacity to make around 5,000 8-ounce bottles a week but the materials are expensive. “In order to ramp up, we’ve actually requested some funding from the state. Everything in the supply chain is expensive,” he says. “To get the glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, I’ve had to resort to ordering on Amazon; 5,000 bottles would cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000.” Still, he is unflagging in his goal to do what he can. The distillery is making more sanitizer for first responders and has gotten requests from visiting nurses and Meals on Wheels. “We felt that the community has given a lot to us and if there was something we could do to give back to the community, we wanted to be able to do that and that’s why we’re doing it again this weekend. It’s the right thing to do.”

Brian Facquet, founder and distiller at Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe, is not only coordinating with other distillers in his role as vice president of the state’s distillers guild but has been busy converting his distillery over to produce sanitizer. Filling a need in the supply chain, he will serve as a commercial source for area hospitals and food processors in the area. “We are trying to go big capacity to make a big difference,” he said, noting they expect to push out 10,000 standard size bottles a day, available for ordering and fully packaged. Confessing to not having had much sleep the last few days, he has been ordering materials and has filed more purchase orders in the last few weeks than in the last few years of his business. About 60 pallets of materials sit in his facility waiting to be unloaded and he has been moving tanks out and renting storage space.

“We are trying to help out on a bigger level and we are going to fill a need just like everyone else is trying to. We are very proud of all the members in our guild,” he said, adding that he would like readers to understand that many small distillers are doing what they can and he doesn’t like when he hears some distillers are being shamed for selling, rather than donating sanitizer. As small businesses, already suffering, giving away product and diverting funds away from their usual product lines to make sanitizer is not sustainable over the long haul so everyone is doing what they can to help out during the crisis but ensure they will still be in business when the crisis is over.

Faucquet is also increasing awareness to provide relief to distillers with a petition linked by the Distilled Spirits industry, which he recently shared on his Facebook page. The petition asks the federal government to temporarily remove the $27 per gallon excise tax for turning distilled beverage alcohol into hand sanitizer. “This will take the tax burden off of all the small distillers trying to make hand sanitizer. Many of us do not have access to industrial chemicals to denature our beverage alcohol, so this makes it possible to do more,” Prohibition Distillery wrote on its website. “If this tax is temporarily suspended, then it will reduce the cost per gallon of hand sanitizer by $27 per gallon or $7.13 per liter.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped up last week and cleared the way by eliminating $1.70 per liter tax, the distillery said.

Stacy Cohen at Catskill Distilling Company says since she is a one-woman operation, she is not in a position to make sanitizer but is eager to help her fellow distilleries with sharing resources or making grain alcohol for them in their efforts. “It’s a tremendous effort {to make sanitizer]… I am here to help,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Black Button Distillery

Rochester’s Black Button Distillery announced on Facebook it has suspended all regular operations of liquor production in favor of producing ethanol-based hand sanitizer for Rochester-area hospitals, doctor’s offices and other at-risk communities. “We are doing this to help our community, to hopefully save lives and to get our employees back to work. We want to do our part in these unprecedented times. Interested local hospitals, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, paramedics, fire stations, daycares and other high-risk operations can reach out to with hand sanitizer requests. Agencies should provide approximate need, address, contact information, packaging requirements and explanation of the at-risk population.

William Grant & Sons, the parent company of Hudson Whiskey and Tuthilltown Spirits, announced a shift in production to produce, package, and distribute hand sanitizer for local healthcare providers and community organizations.

Photo courtesy of Harvest Spirits

Harvest Spirits in Valatie is having a hard time keeping up with the incredible demand but has been working around the clock to keep up, says owner/distiller Derek Grough. “We’ve just been exhausted trying to make enough of it, first of all, and then bottle it. It’s been hard to stay ahead of running out. It kind of feels like I’m making toilet paper but it’s got more urgency than that because this stuff can actually save lives,” he said. They switched over all their apple distillations to make sanitizer with first priority going to first responders, then health care facilities and then essential businesses like the Hannaford distribution center, which is keeping all the Hannaford supermarkets open and their employees safe.

Their 100-gallon still can make about 60 gallons of sanitizer every five days, Grough says and despite the long hours, he has retained a sense of humor. “I’m not a hand sanitizer specialist by any means, I’m a vodka maker,” he says with a laugh. “My batches are getting better though as I blend more hand sanitizer.”

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