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VT Distilleries Switch To Hand Sanitizer During Pandemic

After hearing early reports of the coronavirus outbreak, Ryan Christiansen, President and Head Distiller at Caledonia Spirits in Vermont, started making hand sanitizer as a joke.

“We decided to build our own hand sanitizers as a team workshop which seemed fun,” Christiansen said. “But then the community started to hear that we were doing that and people started asking questions saying hey – can we get some of that?”

Production then caught the attention of state officials.

“The department of public safety has approached us and many folks from the state actually,” Christiansen said. “But we didn’t realize that hospitals are having a hard time finding this – we’re working on an order to produce 1500 bottles for state first responders right now – it’s a tremendous shortage of hand sanitizer.”

This hot commodity boils down to just three ingredients.

“It’s just a mix of some sort of alcohol, we’re using ethanol because that’s what we can produce, and glycerin and water,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen says they will be making the solution in a giant column, named Phyllis.  

“It’s a 45 plate column, it’s a really efficient piece of equipment,” Christiansen said. “So a couple other Vermont distillers reached out to us today, as well as a couple other beverage manufacturers and we all put our heads together and said, ‘OK, we’ve got an incredible demand for hand sanitizer. Where should base raw materials come from? Who should truck it? Who should distill it? How are we going to get it to the state?’ And I am so impressed to be honest and actually really honored to be a part of this.”

Sivan Cotel is the co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits and the Vice President of the Vermont Distilled Spirits Counsel. He says this project is not aiming to make a profit.

“The goal of this collective is not to be doing anything other than covering costs and providing a service to the community,” Cotel said. “There are a thousand different ways that folks could take to do something like this but what we’re working on here is covering costs and solving an issue for the state.”

Because each distillery has different equipment and ingredients available, Cotel says this has to be a team effort.

“I think we’re going to end up with three distilleries, a kombucha provider, a cider provider - all working together to supply hand sanitizer,” Cotel said. “And the fabric of them working together is really what I think will make the difference here.”

Cotel was planning to hammer out the details with distilleries and brewers Friday.

“I spent yesterday on the phone with our Chief of Enforcement at the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery to work out an appropriate legal venue so that Vermont distillers can make hand sanitizer and have it be in compliance,” Cotel said. “We have a process for that which is a huge step forward and I’m very appreciative to the department for working with us on that. Tomorrow I have a conference call with all the Vermont distillers, in my role as the vice president of the Vermont Distilled Spirits Counsel, to walk everyone through the guidance we got from the state and the guidance everyone has received from the federal government on how to do this and do it legally and in compliance.”

Christiansen agrees. He has a message for first responders:

“Hats off to you,” Christiansen said. “For those folks that are brave enough to get out there and really fight this on the front lines that’s an incredible thing to do and for us to make hand sanitizer – that’s about the easiest possible thing we could ever do to support them.”

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