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Metro East distilleries heed hand sanitizer production need

By KYLE CUNNINGHAM, The Times Tribune

In a time when practicing hand washing as well as thorough sanitation is necessary to fend off COVID-19, hand sanitizer has become a rare commodity.

Both the Old Herald Brewery & Distillery in Collinsville and the BlueStem Vodka Distillery in Meadowbrook answered the call to help with the growing need of this once readily available product.

“Early on in this shutdown, we began to see a need for hand sanitizer.  People were buying up all the store supply and front-line care workers were struggling to find some.  Derik (Reiser) knew he could make some very easily, so he started with a small batch and grew it from there, tweaking the recipe to follow the guidelines from the CDC,” Old Herald co-owner Whitney Reiser said.

Currently the pub is giving the product away, which mostly come in liters as well as five-gallon containers.

The idea to give away the item instead of selling it was based on the high demand/need coupled with the inability to make enough to fill such a large demand.

“We have had so many requests for large amounts from around the country.” Reiser said. “We couldn’t possibly meet that demand and we didn’t want to disappoint anyone, and I think if we did try to sell it at a larger scale we would have disappointed some people.”

BlueStem (B.T.O Distillers) also wanted to throw its hat in the ring as a producer of hand sanitizer.

“With the current state of the country, many businesses are pivoting their operations to help fight COVID-19. It soon became clear that this was a much more serious and lengthy matter than previously suspected, and in talking to individuals in the health-care field, local businesses and first responders, many of which are personal friends, it became strikingly clear that they need supplies including hand sanitizer and we were in a position to help them,” B.T.O Distillery Manager Chris Mueller said.

Not only did they feel like they needed to help, they also had extensive experience in ethanol production, so the transition from vodka production to hand sanitizer was not the issue.

They did have to get used to following CDC guidelines to make sure they have a safe an effective product.

“Once we understood the policy, we began immediately to implement the necessary steps to be a registered FDA facility to produce hand sanitizer and procure other products (glycerol, denaturant and hydrogen peroxide) necessary to meet the World Health Organization requirements for hand sanitizer formula.” Mueller said.

BlueStem elected to sell their product due to being able to produce mass quantities. They are selling their hand sanitizer as a 500ml bottle with a bottle of their vodka, a five-gallon bucket, a 55-gallon drum and a 265-gallon tote.

For Old Herald the feedback from the public has been resoundingly positive.

“The feedback has been great. We get messages and pictures from very grateful nurses, delivery drivers, internet installers etc. We think about the during homes and caregivers who really need this in their interactions with patients and customers, it makes us very happy,” Reiser said

Currently they are not producing hand sanitizer and have not decided whether they will again.

BlueStem on the other hand has announced it is still filling orders and will continue to until the overwhelming demand is met.

“The good news is we now have sufficient supplies and equipment to fulfill same day orders at the distillery and will be bringing out smaller packaging,” Mueller said.

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