A local whiskey and rum maker is turning its skills and equipment toward making widely needed hand sanitizer this week, and plans to get it out to local first responders and medical professionals free of charge.
Blue Dyer Distilling Co. in Waldorf teamed up with Calvert Brewing Co. of Upper Marlboro to begin distilling a batch of beyond-its-shelf-life beer into the main ingredient in bottles and tubs of hand sanitizer: alcohol.
“It’s got to be a minimum of 60% alcohol content. … In a beverage that would be a 120 proof spirit,” Ryan Vierheller, co-owner of Blue Dyer, said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “In this case, it’s got to be a minimum of 60, but we’re likely to go a bit higher just to have a margin of safety. We might go to 65 or 70 percent — there’s a small amount of peroxide, a small amount of vegetable glycerin, and past that we’re probably going to add a little aloe vera gel … to make it a little more pleasant to have on your hands.”
"I was excited about [the project]," Matt Hanlon, general manager of Calvert Brewing, said during a phone interview on Monday. "I think it's a great opportunity to help out fellow Marylanders. It's very uncertain times for small businesses."
Hanlon said that since his taproom is effectively shut down under Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) emergency order, large quantities of beer are getting past their shelf life and ordinarily would have been thrown out. Now, at least some of it will be made into hand sanitizer by Blue Dyer.
Vierheller and his friend and business partner Walker Dunbar spent the weekend making changes to their equipment and production line to start sanitizer production beginning on Monday. Vierheller said the two hope to have an 80-gallon or so batch ready by Thursday. That batch will be split with Calvert Brewing since it was that brewer’s beer that was used.
“We want to make sure that the local police, fire, EMS and hospitals are properly stocked for the workers before we worry about trying to have a retail product,” Vierheller said. “Walker and I are both retired police, and Walker is still an active firefighter. So, we’ve hear from a lot of peers in that profession that many of the [police departments] and fire stations are completely out and have no idea where or when they’re going to get any sanitizer in stock.”
Hanlon said he plans to use Calvert Brewing's canning operation to put his part of the batch in 12-ounce cans that can be purchased — at around cost, he said — at the brewery. The brewery is also still selling beer to go so if the hand sanitizer isn't available yet, people can still leave with a craft brew instead.
Vierheller said Kenna Pope Williams of BoonDoggie Farm in Bryantown is also helping with the project. The farm has experience sourcing small packaging that the distillery normally doesn’t deal with.
Though, Williams said the smaller packaging may be on the back burner for a while. "We are struggling to find packaging," said Williams, who has found most containers that would fit the bill are on back order or sold out. "We'll just have to lean toward larger packaging for a while."
“We may have to distribute in quarts and gallons to the first responders if the packaging is not available,” Vierheller said.
The distillery will be making a hand sanitizer approved by the World Health Organization for working well against the virus that causes COVID-19, Vierheller said. And the U.S. Treasury, which oversees alcohol production in the U.S., has suspended some regulations to help spur sanitizer production and distribution, he said.
Vierheller said hand sanitizer production by distilleries has become widespread nationwide, and it only took a couple of phone calls to get the ball rolling in Charles County.
“If we can provide the local first responders with enough product, when the second batch comes out we’ll likely distribute it for free to the general public at the distillery,” Vierheller said. “We don’t plan on selling it at least for the first few batches.”