Central Oregon distilleries are racing to fill the need for hand sanitizer by switching from spirits to cleansing gel.

Early on in the battle to combat the spread of COVID-19, U.S. consumers snatched the portable hand sanitizer as a way to stop the spread of the virus, but demands quickly outpaced supply.

“In these trying times, we have the capacity to do this production without hindering spirit sales,” said Rick Molitor, New Basin Distillery managing partner. “Our focus is this now. For now, we’re fine. If this virus continues, we’ll continue to make sanitizer.”

Oregon Spirit Distillers has switched from distilling whiskey to distilling hand sanitizer.

It is mixing up 15-gallon batches of the stuff per day and passing it out free with purchases, said Shelly Hopson, Oregon Spirit Distillers operations manager.

The company and others, like Crater Lake Distillery, are either using excess alcohol or temporarily halting the production of their spirits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand sanitizer contain at least 60% alcohol, a far greater concentration than liquor sold to consumers.

Distillers are finding ways to work around government restrictions and are making sanitizers in bulk and giving it away. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has exempted spirits companies from getting authorization typically required to manufacture hand sanitizer. The Food and Drug Administration recently said it wouldn’t take action against any company that produces alcohol-based hand sanitizers for use by consumers or health care personnel.

“We’ve been making hand sanitizer for about a week now,” Hopson said. “We’re using a variation of the World Health Organization’s recipe. We’re adding aloe and xanthan gum to make it adhere to your hands a bit longer.

“The more it sticks, the more sanitizing effectiveness it has.”

Right now many distillers are using products on hand or that can be found in the community. Hopson said she just picked up some glycerin from a soap manufacturer in town.

“We’re making as much as we can with the products on hand,” Hopson said. “We’re increasing production.”

By the end of the week, Crater Lake Spirits will have small, airline-approved hand sanitizer offered for free at its tasting rooms in Bend and Tumalo, said Jim Bendis, company founder.

“We’re asking people to come in one person at a time to maintain social distancing and giving it away with cashless transactions,” Bendis said. “It’s necessary at these times. It just seems like the right thing to do.”

Reporter: 541-633-2117,

sroig@bendbulletin.com

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