New York Distilleries Making Coronavirus-Fighting Sanitizers

Several small distilleries have joined in an effort coordinated through Centerstate CEO, the local economic development agency. It will get their hand sanitizers to emergency personnel, hospitals and law enforcement.

by Don Cazentre, Syracuse Media Group, N.Y. / March 23, 2020
Eddie Brennan, president of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards and 1911 Established, holds up two bottles of hand sanitizer made at this distillery. 1911 Established temporarily converted operations to make hand sanitizer instead of alcohol, to help with shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. TNS

(TNS) -- What started as a trickle is now becoming a flood: More craft beverage distilleries across Central New York and beyond are using their expertise and equipment to produce coronavirus-killing alcohol-based sanitizers.

Several of the area’s small distilleries, which typically make vodka, gin, whiskey etc., have joined in an effort coordinated through Centerstate CEO, the local economic development agency. It will get their hand sanitizers to emergency personnel, hospitals and law enforcement agencies.

Distillers involved in that project include Old Home Distillers and Madison County Distillery, both in Madison County, Last Shot Distillery in Skaneateles, Lock 1 Distilling in Phoenix, Oswego County and Waterman’s Distillery in the Southern Tier. Some are also involved in their own sanitizer projects on the side.

Other companies are doing their own bit: The larger 1911 Established distillery, part of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards, is making its own hand sanitizer to donate to health and emergency agencies and to market to individuals. Hall Island Distilling in Cicero has been working for the past week to make a surface sanitizer for the health and retail industries in partnership with Haun Welding Supply.

Even the big Anheuser-Busch brewery just outside of Baldwinsville is getting involved in producing and packaging a sanitizer.

The distillers are all capable of making a product to the minimum 60 percent alcohol level the Centers for Disease Control says is needed to kill the virus. They are making ethyl alcohol (ethanol), then mixing it with glycerin and hydrogen peroxide to make the sanitizer (which makes it undrinkable).

1911 Established in the past few days temporarily turned over its entire distillery on Route 20 in LaFayette into to making high-proof enthanol and mixing it into a hand sanitizer. Some will be donated to hospitals, nursing homes and similar operations, Beak & Skiff president and general manager Eddie Brennan said. The rest will be marketed to individuals at a “reasonable” cost, he said.

“Our team has really come together quickly to make this happen,” Brennan said.

1911 Established's head distiller Ed O’Brien said he can produce about 40 to 50 gallons every few days. Brennan said the company has already heard from more than 4,000 interested customers since it posted its intention to make the sanitizer on Facebook over the weekend.

Though it is a brewer, not a distiller, Anheuser-Busch can produce and package sanitizers. The A-B brewery in the Radisson Business Park on Route 31 is New York state’s largest brewery.

“As we have in the past, we are leveraging our capabilities, our relationships and our reach to provide assistance to those in need,” Cesar Vargas, A-B’s U.S. chief external affairs officer, said in a statement. "As a first step, we are using our supply and logistics network to produce and distribute bottles of hand sanitizer to our internal teams and, with the help and direction of the American Red Cross, to the communities where it’s needed most. We are in this together and there is more to come.”

The Centerstate CEO effort to coordinate the production and distribution of hand sanitizers mostly involves smaller distillers, who have struggled to keep themselves afloat during a shut-down of their on-premises tasting rooms due to the coronavirus. (They can sell their products for pick-up and delivery).

“It’s kind a win-win for the distilleries and for the community to be able to get these sanitizers despite the overall shortage,” said Ben Reilley, a former Cazenovia distillery operator who helped Centerstate recruit distillers to the project. “It’s great to see the community come together like this.”

They also found help through Jason Barrett of Black Button Distilling in Rochester, who helped come up with a “recipe” for the sanitizer. Lock 1 Distilling is helping match up the products with the agencies that need them.

Centerstate is also consulting with the Onondaga County Emergency Management office to connect producers with recipients, said Eleanor Hanna, spokesperson for Centerstate.

The emergency management office “is doing triage to determine who has the greatest need and who a given product matches best,” she said. “Centerstate CEO has a team working on this helping to funnel information for that process and to make connections to resources.”

They are also still looking for suppliers. Those interested can contact support@centerstateceo.com.

While most of the sanitizers are not “potable,” or drinkable, there is one exception., Old Home Distillers in Lebanon, Madison County, is making a 140-proof (70 percent alcohol) corn whiskey that is drinkable and can be used as a effective cleaner for certain applications, like food preparation surfaces.

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