Until recently, Ted Dumbauld never considered producing hand sanitizer at SoNo 1420, the Norwalk distillery he co-owns. In fact, there would have been few bigger insults you could have hurled at him or any other distiller than to compare their booze to an alcohol-based cleaning product. But when the coronavirus pandemic entered Connecticut and hand-sanitizer shortages spread throughout the state, Dumbauld’s distillery and several others began producing the vital cleaning product.
“Our gins and vodkas are distilled from 100 percent gluten-free corn to create a 95 percent pure ethanol base. We are now using this base to make a hand sanitizer,” Dumbauld says. “To turn the drinkable ethanol into sanitizer, we add hydrogen peroxide and glycerin and purified water and mix thoroughly.”
The resulting mix, which is made in accordance with a World Health Organization formula and U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, has an ABV of 80 and is “therefore 99.99 percent effective in killing illness causing microbes including COVID-19,” Dumbauld says. He has been offering it for free at the distillery, and plans to deliver it to the Norwalk Fire Department, which has run out of sanitizer, as well as to homeless shelters and others in need.
The legal hurdles to producing sanitizer at SoNo 1420 and other state distilleries were recently overcome thanks to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau issuing a temporary exemption allowing distillers to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizer without obtaining additional permits. (The exemption was announced March 18 and will run through at least the end of June.)
Distilleries in Connecticut and throughout the country have acted quickly to help meet the demand for sanitizer. By March 19 Litchfield Distillery had already donated more than 1,000 bottles of its sanitizer spray. The product continues to be offered for free at the distillery in Litchfield. The 80 percent ABV sanitizer is made from alcohol that would normally go to waste at the distillery. “There's a term called ‘making cuts’ in the distillery world,” explains Tony Vengrove, head of marketing at the distillery. “The ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ portion of the distillate are not suitable for making or consuming spirits, so this unused portion is what we're using for the sanitizer.”
The distillery is asking that people return empty sanitizer bottles if they can, as these bottles are in short supply.
At Hartford Flavor Co., the team is also producing a 63-ABV sanitizer spray for hand washing and surface cleaning. Tom Dubay, the distillery’s CEO, says to make the spray, “We utilize our all-natural ethyl alcohol and then add aloe, essential oils, and water.” He adds that the sanitizer can be made more quickly than booze, “because there is no aging required. The process also does not entail any filtration, so that makes it easier and quicker as well.”
The distillery offers 2-, 4- and 12.7-ounce bottles for purchase, for $2, $4, and $13, respectively. Some bottles will be donated to local health care organizations as well as restaurants and liquor stores, Dubay says.
Other distilleries making sanitizer include Full Moonshine in Canton.
At Fifth State Distillery in Bridgeport, owner Robert Schulten was so eager to produce a liquid hand-washing solution that he didn’t wait for the federal exemption. Instead, in mid-March he started producing a gin called Hand Wash. It could not be marketed as a hand sanitizer but was designed for that purpose, although it could still be consumed. Now he’s shifted over to producing a sanitizing gel that is sold in 8-ounce bottles for $12. It’s available with curbside delivery at the distillery. Schulten says he has plenty of raw materials to produce more and has been in touch with Bridgeport Hospital to help fill any of their sanitizer supply needs if they develop.
The gel and original gin both have an ABV of 65 (130 proof) and were made with the mix of botanicals that power the distillery’s regular gin. For the Hand Wash gin, Schulten says, “I have amped up the botanicals a bit in an attempt to make the smell on your hands reminiscent of the best G&T you have ever enjoyed.”
As for how it tastes? “At 130 proof it’s a little hot,” Schulten says.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that both Fifth State Distillery’s Hand Wash gin and sanitzer gel were scented. Only the gin is scented.