Don't grab your own bottle of tequila and try this one at home, kids. With tools and know-how, these technicians have the skills to create a potentially life-saving product.
image Shine Distillery in Portland Oregon
Credit: image Shine Distillery

It's been next to impossible to purchase hand sanitizer the past few weeks, as store shelves have been emptied and yet to be refilled. As consumers have become desperate for the stuff, the Internet has attempted to fill the void, with Influencers and Bloggers sharing tips and tricks on how to make your own (please don't). While traditional manufacturers of the products, like Purell and Germ-X, have been ramping up production, the ever-growing need continues. So, in the American spirit of ingenuity in times of hardship, liquor distillers have stepped up to meet the rising demands.

Stepping Up to the Plate

An unusual request propelled Shine Distillery and Grill down the path to making hand sanitizer at the beginning of March. Owner Jon Poteet shared that when customers started clamoring for Everclear, a high-proof alcohol typically reserved for college parties, they knew they had to do something with the stuff.

From a small first batch, production has ramped up, reaching 190 gallons a day. Poteet is directing those reaching out to him and his team from out of state to find local distillers, as he and the Shine Distillery team can hardly keep up with local demand. They are currently receiving between 1500 and 2000 calls a day from across the country requesting their product, Poteet says.

Echoing that sentiment is co-owner of Kinsip, Maria Hristova, who shared that "we have received hundreds of messages and phone calls over the last couple of days, and many of them have been from nurses, midwives, paramedics, doctors, grocery store workers, and pretty much every other function that works with the public. Our second batch was gone in a day, and we are continuing to make sanitizer as quickly as we can and packaging it so it can go out to the frontline workers that need it the most."

Hand sanitizer made by Kinsip

An Opportunity to Serve, Not Profit

Both Shine Distillery and Grill and Kinsip are giving their hand sanitizer away. Despite not typically being authorized to produce such sanitizing agents, Poteet shared that he reached out to several controlling bodies, including the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, who gave him the following advice, "As long as we don't make any medical claims — I'm not saying, this is going to cure the common cold, I'm not telling you that this going to make your hair grow — and we aren't allowed to sell it, nobody has anything to say about it." In fact, the Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau announced on March 18th that due to the pandemic, the Bureau would allow distillers to produce hand sanitizer without prior authorization.

Shine is currently accepting donations to help cover the cost of production. On Kinsip's Instagram they posted, "We are only doing curbside pickup at the moment - please make sure that you practice social distancing as we need our Retail Manager, Lisa to stay healthy and answer the phone and make sure that everyone gets what they need."

Don't Try This at Home

It's crucial to note that you should not be attempt to make hand sanitizer at home. Distillers like Kinsip and Shine Distillery and Grill have the tools and know-how to ensure that their hand sanitizer reaches an alcohol percentage that is high enough to meet the guidelines as put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Without that technical know-how, Poteet noted,"If they [readers] don't have the ability to do the proofing, if they don't have an alcohol hydrometer so that they can test to make sure that it is between 63 to 80 percent alcohol by volume that the CDC recommends, they could potentially, if they're using the wrong kind of alcohol, they could burn their skin, or they could dilute it down too much to a point where it's not effective."

The shift from making spirits to hand sanitizers wasn't a great one, according to Hristova, whose team at Kinsip is following the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended recipe. She acknowledged that while they had to source some more uncommon ingredients like glycerine and hydrogen peroxide, which aren't typical for production, "The main ingredient in sanitizer is alcohol, so that part is exactly the same. We are also working under a lot of time pressure and trying to produce as quickly as we can."

As for production of the liquors that keep the bills paid? Priorities have dramatically shifted. As Hristova told us,"Usually in the past, if we have ran out of one of our gins, some customers might be upset, but right now running out of sanitizer feels a lot more important." How quickly things have changed.