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Distilleries pivot from whiskey to hand sanitizer in wake of coronavirus shortage

Detroit City Distillery’s Michael Forsyth hasn’t yet had a chance to fully consider the impact the coronavirus will have on his business and community.

Instead, he’s been compelled to take action in an unexpected way: producing hand sanitizer in bulk for hospitals, first responders and government entities.

Distilleries across the region such as Ann Arbor Distilling Co., Ugly Dog Distillery in Chelsea, and Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Co. in Birmingham are making hand sanitizer either in place of or in addition to spirits and beer. Some are offering it free to community members, while others are selling or requesting donations for customers buying in bulk.

“I’ve never worked this hard in my life,” said Forsyth. “As a small local distillery, I’d never think to be on front lines of this stuff. For us, despite it being a difficult time, it feels good we have a role to play.”

After receiving a call from the Detroit Police Department asking for hand sanitizer, Forsyth and his team sprang into action and began producing the disinfectant. Demand skyrocketed from there. Forsyth said by the end of this week he expects to produce 1,700 gallons of hand sanitizer, and will make an additional 5,000-7,000 gallons in the weeks to come. At approximately 1,920 uses per gallon, that could add up to as many as 13,440,000 uses.

“It’s been one of the most empowering, tragic and exhilarating past few days of my life,” Forsyth said.

Distilleries in Michigan and across the country are pivoting to making hand sanitizer to help combat a shortage in the U.S. in the wake of the spread of coronavirus across the country. They’re uniquely positioned to do this because they have access to spirits with a high concentration of alcohol needed to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that hand sanitizer contain at least 60% alcohol.

While the agency says hand washing is the best way to get rid of germs, hand sanitizer can be used if people don’t have immediate access to soap and water.

Distilleries — makers of a product that can sometimes be detrimental to public health — are now playing a crucial role in slowing the spread of the virus.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed Michigan distillers to produce hand sanitizers through the end of June, with the possibility of an extension. Normally, they’d need an industrial manufacturing permit, which Whitmer said no distilleries currently have. To make the hand sanitizer, distillers mix alcohol with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide and a moisturizer like glycerol or aloe vera gel.

Michael Fox, director of sales at Ann Arbor Distilling, thought of the idea to produce hand sanitizer two weeks ago, when he and his staff struggled to find hand sanitizer on store shelves.

“We knew our sales would go in the tank” because of the epidemic, said Fox. “We saw the writing on the wall. We would have had to shut down the tasting room. When you look back at it, it was an easy decision and transition.”

Ann Arbor Distilling started out by giving away 4-ounce bottles to community members who visited the distillery. But it wasn’t long before they started receiving larger requests from hospitals, automotive suppliers, mail carriers and delivery companies.

“There’s a lot of panic in peoples’ voices,” said Fox. He’s gotten calls from a variety of companies and institutions in locations across the country. On Wednesday, he got a call from the city of Wylie, Texas, with a request to ship 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

Ugly Dog Distillery CEO David Salmon also is getting calls from around the country, from first responders, government agencies and states looking for hand sanitizer.

“It’s quite concerning,” Salmon said of the requests he’s receiving. “Some of them are multi-billion-dollar companies. It doesn’t make sense.”

He said he and his team in Chelsea are working to fulfill as many orders as possible. He, like other distillers, is grateful for the opportunity to keep his employees working and engaged.

Griffin Claw Brewing  Director of Sales Kyle VanDeventer said last week started with the question hanging over everyone’s head: “Are we going to need to lay people off?” By midweek, employees were working long hours, and through the weekend. Ann Arbor Distilling’s Fox said his team of five is putting in 10- to-12-hour days.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Fox. “You get a really good sense of pride. Selling and making alcohol is a great business but it’s a luxury that nobody needs. It’s nice to shift to a position where we’re really doing good for everybody.”


Posted By: Detroit Free Press on March 26, 2020.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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