Distillers shifting from whiskey to hand sanitizer

Grant Stevely, owner of Dubh Glas Distillery at Gallagher Lake north of Oliver, holds up a glass of his award-winning Noteworthy Gin in July 2016. He’s now making hand sanitizer with his still in the background. (Photo: Richard McGuire for the Osoyoos Times)

Hand sanitizer these days is extremely difficult or impossible to find. That’s in part due to the high demand, but there have also been some egregious cases of hoarding.

The most notorious case involved brothers Matt and Noah Colvin of Hixson, Tennessee, who drove around their state and neighbouring ones scooping up every bottle of sanitizer they could find. In the end, they had more than 17,000 bottles, along with other much-needed supplies.

They tried to sell it on Amazon are profiteering prices, but the online retail giant shut them down. They ended up donating much of it after being publicly shamed.

See original story in the New York Times and this story in Time.

The effective ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, so stories began popping up on the internet about how you can make your own by mixing rubbing alcohol with aloe vera.

This story on Healthline is one of many. See also this fact sheet on hand washing and sanitizer from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC).

Hand washing with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds remains the best way to keep your hands safe from spreading infection, but in some situations hand sanitizer is more convenient.

The problem is, as people learned about making their own hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol also disappeared from store shelves.

And so, distillers, who normally make products like whiskey and gin, have stepped up to make hand sanitizer.

Dale Boyd did a story in the Osoyoos Times about Grant Stevely,  owner of Dubh Glas Distillery at Gallagher Lake north of Oliver, who has switched to making hand sanitizer.

“The much-needed sanitizer was distributed locally to the Oliver Fire Department, the Osoyoos Fire Department, paramedics and provincially to health care workers at Vancouver General Hospital and other locations in the Lower Mainland,” Boyd writes.

When I interviewed Stevely a few years ago when he opened Dubh Glas Distillery, he told me how he got his start making moonshine with a homemade still in the bathroom of the residence when he worked at a ski resort.

It’s against the law in Canada to use a still without a federal license, but it is easy to do. This article explains the law and the website where it’s posted, Learn to Moonshine, tells how it’s done.

The law is there to protect the public because illegal moonshine can be very dangerous and people have died or gone blind after using it. Alcohol is flammable, and there’s also a fire risk. Technically it’s illegal to operate a still without a permit, even to make hand sanitizer. I’m not advocating breaking the law, but I doubt police would break down your door if you’re only making hand sanitizer for your family. If you go that way, it’s at your own risk.

Here are a few articles from other media about distilleries switching over to making hand sanitizer.

Author: Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is an Osoyoos photographer who worked at the Osoyoos Times between 2012 and 2018, first as reporter and then as editor. He has a long career in journalism as well as research, communication and management at the House of Commons in Ottawa and in the federal government.