By Cece Cruz
At least three Long Island distilleries among 160 in New York State are voluntarily swapping their production from booze to hand sanitizers to help protect essential workers and the public against the coronavirus pandemic.
LI Spirits, The Better Man Distilling Co., and Twin Stills Moonshine started working on their new line of products after March 18 when the Alcohol, Tobacco, Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) announced it was relaxing distilled spirits permittees of certain requirements, and allowing them to legally produce hand sanitizer tax-free.
“The amount of alcohol that goes into a 16-ounce bottle is equivalent to roughly a liter of vodka that we retail for $30,” Rich Stabile, owner of LI Spirits said. “So, we’re taking essentially filet mignon and making hamburgers out of it because the world needs hamburgers right now.”
The FDA provided the distilleries with guidelines on how to produce the hand sanitizers on March 23. The formula consists of four ingredients – 190 proof ethanol, distilled water, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. Legally, the alcohol must be 190 proof before it gets blended down and mixed with the remaining four ingredients.
“’It’s basically the same process we do as making vodka or gin,” Abby Gruppuso, head of operations at The Better Man Distilling Co. in Patchogue said. “It’s just sped up a little bit and it’s less fussy because it doesn’t matter what it tastes like for hand sanitizer.”
The Better Man Distilling Co. began producing its first batch last week and had about 800 32-ounce bottles ready for distribution on Friday. The distillery is now focusing on distributing the product to local hospitals, doctors’ offices and first responders like fire departments and police departments before selling it to the public.
The newly established business is selling bulk cases of 16 32oz bottles for $256 which helps cover production costs like bottles, labels, boxes, and labor.
Twin Stills Moonshine in Riverhead has been receiving bottle donations from local residents as well as aloe vera gel which they use to mix in with the alcohol.
“We started about two in half, maybe three weeks ago,” Joe Cuhna, Co-Owner of Twin Stills Moonshine said. The Riverhead distillery has donated to about 20 to 30 organizations so far, including the Salvation Army in Riverhead and local nursing homes and childcare facilities. On the weekends they are providing residents with free 3-ounce bottles with a limit of one per person. “As soon as we got word from the TTB, we produced the next day and started making hand sanitizers,” Cuhna said.
Due to job losses, the Salvation Army in Riverhead has seen the amount of people they service at the food pantry triple in recent weeks.
“They’re always coming in asking do you have a mask or hand sanitizer,” Captain Frenie Antoine said. “That’s a big thing because they can’t find them at the store.“
LI Spirits, a family owned distillery in Baiting Hollow, normally produces vodka and Rough Rider Bourbon. Since March 23 however, it sold around 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to essential businesses like the United States Post Office, and local hospitals like NYU Langone and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.
“On our Facebook page a couple of days ago we put up a post of things that we were asking the public for that we’re a little short on right now,” Stuart Vincent, spokesperson at John T. Mather Hospital, said. “So, one of them was the hand sanitizers.”
In addition to selling to local businesses, LI Spirits is selling hand sanitizer to the public which is available for purchase outside their building via curbside pickup. The bottles come in 8 ounces for $10 and 16 ounces for $17.50.
In order to quickly meet the needs of essential workers and the community, LI Spirits paid overnight fees for materials and are working 18-hour days, 7 days a week to keep up with the demand. This has allowed residents to purchase more than 2 bottles at a time if needed.