HOMER CITY — To meet rising needs for products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports uniform makers have turned to producing surgical masks, automakers have retooled to build respiratory ventilators and now liquor manufacturers are reworking their distilleries to produce hand sanitizer.
Disobedient Spirits in Homer City is in the early stages of concocting high-alcohol-content sanitizing gel and turned out the first batches for the state police in Indiana. Next up is an order for Indiana Borough police, distillery owner Robert Begg said Monday.
In about a week, Disobedient’s sanitizer could go up for sale to the public.
Logistics rule the production. Delivery of glycerol has been slow. Finding appropriate bottles for distribution also has been a challenge, Begg said.
First, they’ve found the right blend of ingredients.
“It depends on what we’re producing. Some of our liquors are at a lower proof than the hand sanitizer,” Begg said. “So we’re doing two things: We’re distilling our own raw materials, and we are purchasing grain alcohol so that we can make the sanitizer.
“We’re waiting on glycerol, which we need, and we’re having a hard time finding bottles, so watch our website to see when it’s ready to go out.”
Figures weren’t immediately available on the possibly daily production levels. Getting supplies and balancing the facility with regular liquor distilling would bear on that, Begg said.
“Grain alcohol takes two weeks to deliver and I don’t know what our stock is right now. And we want to continue making product, so there is a trade-off,” he said.
Still, public sale is an estimate.
“I don’t know what the demand is going to be, so we’re going to be playing this by ear all the way,” Begg said.
But the priorities are set. State and local police get it first, then any other first responders in need, all at no charge. Then the public sale, “at a modest markup,” he said.
Details will appear first at https://www.disobedientspirits.com/.
It’s not a new idea. A distiller in Portland, Ore., began a nationwide trend more than two weeks ago.
“Then the federal government started issuing permits to make hand sanitizers to distilleries, so the government stepped in. They waived a lot of (conditions); they do it fairly quickly,” Begg said. “In order to do it, we have 190 proof alcohol — and anything over 120 proof will kill almost anything. So the hand sanitizer is going to be 60 percent-plus raw alcohol. We just have to add glycerol and peroxide to it to make it (World Health Organization) legal. … The difference between legal and illegal is whether you can drink it or not. They want us to put something in it so it can’t be drunk.
“We can turn out fairly large quantities. But 120 proof is really different from 80 proof, so you’re eating up a lot of alcohol to do it.”