MONTPLELIER – Caledonia Spirits has shifted from producing gin and vodka to making hand sanitizer for use by emergency first responders and the community during the coronavirus crisis.

The company has joined other distilleries in the state and country making hand sanitizer, including Smuggler’s Notch Distillery, Green Mountain Distillers in Morrisville and SILO Distillery in Windsor.

Caledonia Spirits – makers of Barr Hill Gin, Barr Hill Vodka and Tom Cat Gin – delivered its first batch of hand sanitizer to the Vermont Food Bank last week. This week, they’ve been working on a second batch to produce 1,500 bottles of hand sanitizers to emergency first responders in the state.

Last week, the company announced it was closing its cocktail bar and retail store to reduce to exposure to staff who continue to operate the distillery.

Company owner and head distiller Ryan Christiansen said he was focused on the health and safety of staff, despite the impact of closing the building to the public.

“Like any other local or frankly global business, we are incredibly challenged by this situation,” he said. “It’s a terrible situation for most businesses, it’s a terrible situation for sanity. We’re really focused on keeping our team healthy.”

While safeguards were discussed and put in place, thoughts turned to developing a strategy to support the community, part of the company’s social responsibility platform.

“It started as a team-building workshop where we knew we could make hand sanitizer, so we decided to pull our team together and make some hand sanitizer and talk about the challenges ahead,” Christiansen said. “Then, there was this incredible shortage of hand sanitizer that we never saw coming.

“It went from, ‘Hey this would be a fun thing to do at a hard moment in our lives and bring people together with clean hands,’ to ‘Wow, we have a social responsibility to do this because we can,’” he added.

Christiansen noted that a “crucial ingredient” in hand sanitizer is high-strength alcohol.

“That’s what our equipment is designed to make,” he said. “But there are other ingredients that we’re challenged to find, including glycerol, and we’re new to making hand sanitizer.

“It’s not like we have this experience, but the World Health Organization has put out a very simple recipe that we’re following, which is incredibly helpful,” he added.

The World Health Organization has two recipes for two different combinations to make sanitizer that include ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, isopropyl alcohol and sterile distilled or boiled cold water.

Christiansen said it required a waiver to the company’s permit from the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – — to switch to production of hand sanitizer.

“This wasn’t a part of our permit until they changed the rules to allow us and other small distillers to do this,” Christiansen said. “The main constraints for us are more around packaging and just figuring out logistics.

“The making of the sanitizer, pending the availability of materials, is quite simple but getting it into packaging and getting it distributed through the community and figuring out how to allocate it, making sure it goes to the right places, is a challenge,” he added.

Meanwhile, the company is wrestling with the impact of the pandemic on the business economy, particularly restaurants and bars that use Caledonia Spirits products.

“Right now, our core business is threatened because restaurants across the nation are closing their doors,” Christiansen said. “So, all of those bartenders and restaurants that have been our partners in educating people about the quality of our products are now unemployed.

“It’s a hard moment for all of us. We’re trying to keep in touch with people and do what we can to support them but unfortunately, it starts with the restaurants, and then distilleries are next on the chopping block and then it’s the farmers,” he added.

Christiansen said he was also trying to consider the emotional and social support of his staff.

“Our team is doing OK, but’s it’s nerve-wracking,” he said. “We’ve been checking in regularly and trying to support all of us.

“The one common thread amongst our team is that we’ve got to get outdoors and get some fresh air. The severity of the situation is concerning, but we live in Vermont with plenty of fresh air and it’s good to get out. Clean hands and a relaxed mind are how we will get through,” he added.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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