N.J. distillery switches from making spirits to sanitizers during coronavirus outbreak

Posted Mar 17, 2020

You won’t want to drink what Claremont Distillery is brewing this week. Instead of its usual menu of vodka, bourbon and moonshine, the Fairfield distillery is hard at work making gallons of hand sanitizer to offset supply shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tim Koether, the owner, said the motivation behind the switch from spirits to sanitizer was simple.

“My wife couldn’t find any, and she was getting all panicked,” Koether told NJ Advance Media. Helping out his wife gave him the chance to help the larger community, and the decision became a no-brainer. “It’s like to me, it just seems like you’re supposed to (help out). It was just kind of like, well, heck. I got to do this," he said.

He plans on distilling liquid that’s 95% alcohol, which will be combined with aloe vera gel to make the hand sanitizers. Don’t expect any fancy scents; Koether says this will be utilitarian sanitizer.

The sanitizers will not be for sale, and Koether does not plan to profit off this, he said. Sanitizers will be donated. Public donations will be accepted at some point to purchase more supplies and keep the operation up and running.

Production on the finished product should be underway by the end of this week. Claremont is currently distilling between 150 and 200 gallons of alcohol, which Koether says will be used to make 300 gallons of hand sanitizer.

While the distillery has plenty of alcohol and expects a large shipment of aloe vera gel to arrive this week, they are limited on bottles to dispense the sanitizer in. Donations of bottles would be accepted, and Koether also encourages those in need to bring their own refillable bottles.

Like a growler but for hand sanitizer?

“Just like that,” Koether said with a laugh.

For now, distribution will likely be in-person at the distillery, but he is open to other distribution ideas as the project gets underway, including some type of a delivery system. “It would be nice for those who are unable to get it, and frankly probably need it the most,” he said.

Claremont Distillery isn’t the only place switching from spirits to sanitizers. Distilleries around America have begun using their alcohol byproducts to make high-strength cleaning solutions and hand sanitizers, Eater reported.

Koether said he spoke to several other distilleries in New Jersey who were also looking into switching to the hand sanitizer business during the outbreak. As the oldest and largest distillery in the state, he said Claremont was in a unique position to help.

“This is something we plan on continuing to do as long as it remains economically feasible,” Koether said.

Hand sanitizer has been in short support nationwide as residents scramble to stock up amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Supplies have been further dwindled by re-sellers who bought mass quantities at local shops to re-sell online for huge mark-ups, the New York Times reported.

Liquor stores and brands have responded to sanitizer shortages with a mix of humor and caution.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka warned drinkers on Twitter that their vodka is only 40% alcohol, far below the 60% CDC recommendation for sanitizers.

Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlet on U.S. Route One in Woodbridge did not suggest customers make their own hand sanitizer, but did have a display set up reminding them that Everclear clocks in at 95% alcohol.

Making your own hand sanitizer is typically best left to the experts, officials say. Four teens were injured after using a homemade sanitizing spray sold to them at a North Jersey convenience store, officials said.

And when in doubt, a good hand washing will get the job done, the CDC says.

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