In response to price gouging, they’re putting alcohol to a different use.

By Tim Nelson
March 18, 2020

The Coronavirus has lots of people buying up lots of things, but nothing has been harder to find than hand sanitizer. That scarcity has led to both empty store shelves and price gouging online, a situation best exemplified by the third-party Amazon seller who drew scorn for hoarding nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. 

While liquor brands like Tito’s don’t want you to turn your booze into hand sanitizer, craft distilleries around the country who know a thing or two about high-proof alcohol have begun producing hand sanitizer to help out their local communities at a time of great need. 

“We are in a national emergency,” Chad Butters, founder of Pennsylvania’s Eight Oaks Farm Distillery, told the Associated Press. “The right thing to do is support the community by providing something that is in desperate need. We’ll flood the [Lehigh] Valley with hand sanitizer and drive that price right down.”

Following a World Health Organization recipe, Eight Oaks combined high-proof alcohol, aloe and glycerine to get the formula just right. They finished their first batch of 20 bottles on Monday, set to be distributed to local charitable groups and at-risk individuals in their community. As time goes on, they hope to continue ramping up production and offer the bottles to the public for whatever price they’re willing to donate, even if it’s $0.

There are numerous reasons why distilleries from Vermont to Louisiana are shifting gears. Beyond the immediate public need for hand sanitizer, the widespread closure of restaurants and bars has decimated the short-term demand for craft liquors. For places like Smugglers’ Notch Distillery, using their existing infrastructure to produce hand sanitizer lets them help the community, keep their employees working, and hopefully play some small part in getting back to business as usual a little bit sooner.

To that end, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States has been in touch with the federal government to see how they can help out. With the Trump administration hoping to clear regulatory red tape, the trade group’s CEO Chris Swonger told the AP that the goal of these talks is to “make sure we can be quick and nimble and fill a need in the marketplace.”

At a time when a significant chunk of the liquor market is out of commission amid an ongoing pandemic, the production of hand sanitizers by these distilleries seems like a win-win. With the federal government now invoking the Defense Production Act, hopefully bigger distillers will get the message and start pumping out some hand sanitizer of their own. After all, the sooner the pandemic passes, the sooner we can all go back to the bars. 

 

  

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