Distilleries statewide produce hand sanitizer to help meet demand

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Virginia distillers are rolling out a new high-demand product, but you won’t need a rocks glass or lime twist for this one.

Many distilleries have adapted their operations to make hand sanitizer since the alcohol-based product has become scarce in stores as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Some of these efforts are community-funded, as much of the hand sanitizer is donated to essential frontline workers at food banks, hospitals and emergency care centers.

“COVID-19 is presenting a multitude of challenging circumstances for producers in Virginia and across the U.S.,” said Julia Clark, assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Despite the hardships this situation is bringing across the agriculture industry, there are multiple instances of producers giving back to the community.”

Ryan Kearney, distillery manager at Old House Vineyards, a winery, distillery and brewery in Culpeper County, said that business switched 80% of its distilling production to sanitizer. They started receiving local support when they offered to place a few hand-sanitizing dispensers around the downtown Culpeper area.

“It went from zero to 100 quickly,” Kearney said. “The town got behind it. They wanted to put it in the hands of town and essential employees as everything started to shut down.”

Kearney said the town helped fund the purchase and return of plastic bottles used for the sanitizer, and is the distribution point of contact. The distillery is focused solely on production.

Individual bottles of sanitizer are sold at the winery for $4 each, “which pays for another bottle that goes back into the community,” Kearney said. “Our plan is to continue doing it as long as we are able.”

Some distillers produce and ship the alcohol-based ingredients to be compounded and packaged elsewhere. Barry Ratihn, manager of operations and tasting for Davis Valley Distillery in Smyth County, said they are making the 160-proof alcohol that is used for hand sanitizer.

“It’s just moonshine,” Ratihn said. The alcohol is packaged and shipped to distilleries and a few pharmacies throughout Virginia in 250-gallon plastic totes. It becomes viscous hand sanitizer when compounded with hydrogen peroxide and glycol.

Ratihn said Davis Valley mixed their own batch of the final product to share with regional first responders, hardware stores and hospitals.

Dida’s Distillery in Rappahannock County also is making sanitizer for community members. A video clip on its Facebook page said the distillery produced 1,700 gallons for donation to frontline workers at more than 100 critical services and agencies.


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