Around the time a national increase in COVID-19 cases began leading to product shortages, Spring44 Distilling in Loveland planned to make one highly demanded product — hand sanitizer — on-site. The distillery started making a handful of calls to gauge interest from those who might need the sanitizer most, like first responders.
Within a matter of days, the distillery was receiving call after call from police departments — not only in nearby northern Colorado cities, but also from departments throughout Jefferson County and the broader Denver area.
“It just snowballed. The requests are coming fast and furious,” said Spring44 chief financial officer Robin Marisco. She added that the distillery has distributed more than 6,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to police organizations and others so far.
“Booze is not usually the answer in a crisis, but distilleries are now able to help in a super positive way,” she said. “It's a way for us to give back.”
As the impact of COVID-19 has escalated, numerous distilleries throughout the metro area have also launched hand sanitizer operations, producing and distributing to first responders and the wider community.
Where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would normally prohibit this, the two government agencies have amended their regulations in recent weeks as distilleries across the country have requested permission to enact their hand sanitizer plans.
As of March 26, the TTB's latest statement said the organization is providing authorizations and exemptions for distilleries producing hand sanitizer, such as by waiving the need for additional permits. In turn, distilleries must keep detailed records of operations and follow a specific formula.
The FDA likewise has posted a statement saying it will not take action against distilleries, provided they meet certain requirements. Those include following the approved formula, preparing products under sanitary conditions and registering products with the FDA.
With the relaxed regulations, more and more distilleries have jumped on board to address the needs of local organizations like the Westminster Police Department — which, on average, uses about three gallons of hand sanitizer per day, said investigator Cheri Spottke.
So far, the department has received sanitizer from almost 10 distilleries, she said.
"At this point, all of it has been donated. Moving forward, we will be working with these distilleries to purchase hand sanitizer," Spottke said. "We cannot express our gratitude enough to these distilleries for their generosity."
However, Marisco said, as more distilleries work to meet the growing demand, “there are certain components that are harder and harder to get."
The lack of supply has been a barrier for Devil's Head Distillery in Englewood, said owner Ryan White. The distillery has the equipment necessary to make hand sanitizer but has had trouble sourcing some of the necessary ingredients, such as ethanol.
Some distilleries have been able to obtain ingredients through existing connections with plants or by producing the components on-site. But for White, while his distillery produces ethanol, the cost of producing the amount necessary for hand sanitizer isn't attainable, and many of the suppliers he's reached out to don't have ethanol available to provide to new accounts.
“I've got about 30 emails out to some of the smaller plants so we can help our community,” White said. “We've been getting multiple inquiries for hand sanitizer. The shortages nationwide have people looking at all sources, and we really want to participate and help with the relief effort.”
If the distillery is able to secure the necessary ingredients, it could be distributing sanitizer three or four days later, White said.
“My intention would be to make it as long as there's a need for it,” he said. “The big piece of the puzzle is being able to have an uninterrupted supply.”
When the operation is up and running, White hopes to assist the entities that have reached out, which includes nursing homes, police departments and health care organizations.
In addition to distributing to these operations, many local distilleries have also been selling or donating bottles to individual community members. At Ballmer Peak Distillery in Lakewood, hundreds of area residents have come by to receive a four-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer, with the distillery having already produced more than 2,700 ounces, said Austin Adamson, co-owner and distiller.
“We saw other distilleries in Seattle making hand sanitizer, so I started researching how they were doing it,” Adamson said. Ballmer Peak has provided the sanitizer to community members for free, finding that many donate to help the distillery cover costs.
Others in the area have found different ways to ensure the sanitizer gets into customers' hands. For instance, Golden Moon Distillery, located in Golden, cannot distribute sanitizer for free because of its licensing regulations, but it has given sanitizer out along with the purchase of any bottle.
As the distilleries remain open under current stay-at-home orders, they're also taking the chance to encourage customers to support their businesses after stocking up on sanitizer.
“When our tasting room closed, we were worried we couldn't stay open. We had to switch to only bottle sales to go,” Adamson said. Now, as residents line up by the dozens, the distillery has seen some buy a bottle of spirits to show their support.
And, while the distillery is thanking customers for continuing to support them, residents are returning the favor.
“We get people just thanking us, saying they've searched grocery stores and pharmacies and couldn't find any hand sanitizer,” Adamson said. “They're just so happy there's someone doing something like this.”
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