DEKALB, Ill. — A new product is in production at Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The estate distillery, which normally produces bourbon, rye whiskey and vodka, is working to produce hand sanitizer.
“Nick and I were in Nebraska and very excited to be opening a new state market for us when the virus really began to take hold,” said Jamie Walter, who owns the business together with his dad, Jim, and Nick Nagele.
“We started discussing if we would be able to produce hand sanitizer, but there were some challenges including the legality and supplies,” Walter said.
With the continuing spread of the coronavirus, the visitor’s center had already been closed at the farm near DeKalb.
“We shut down the public side of our business prior to the governor’s announcement because we thought it was the right thing to do to promote social distancing,” Walter said.
“This virus has thrown our industry in a little of a tailspin, so we are trying to manage our business and at the same time be a good corporate citizen, so we started to revisit the idea of producing hand sanitizer,” said the farmer who operates the family farm with his dad, where the corn is grown for their whiskey.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is providing exemptions to allow distillers to produce hand sanitizers during this emergency.
“That allows small craft distillers like us to retool, so we’re going to do that,” Walter said. “We’re going to produce hand sanitizer and put it in sprayable 2-ounce bottles.”
In addition to alcohol, the formula requires glycerol and hydrogen peroxide.
“Those two things are in short supply and now our real bottleneck is bottles, so there may be a limit to how much we can make,” Walter said. “We’re going to make a few thousand bottles and donate them to the marketplace.”
Since the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer is ethanol, Walter said, it is not a really big change to switch to making it.
“We’re going to re-distill some of our waste ethanol because for hand sanitizer to be effective it has to have over 60% alcohol,” he said. “To get the proof higher than we typically make for whiskey, it will take more time and energy running through the still.”
The company does not have bottle fillers and equipment to handle the pocket spray atomizers, so they will be filled by hand.
“Our staff, many which are home, has been itching to help, so when we pitched this idea to them they were all over it,” Walter said. “They are really looking forward to helping out.”
The bottles of hand sanitizer will be donated to the local healthcare providers and first responders.
“This is a challenging time for everybody, and we feel for our employees and our customers,” Walter said. “This is a way we can give back to our community and do something that is helpful.”
In addition to Illinois and now Nebraska, Whiskey Acres products also became available in Wisconsin late in 2019.
“Our products are available in over 600 locations,” Walter said.
"You can go to the location finder on our website and put in your ZIP code to find the nearest location," he said. "If you're downstate and don't know where to find our whiskey, it can be ordered online at www.binnys.com, which is one of our retail partners to have it shipped to your home."
For more information about Whiskey Acres Distilling Co., go to www.whiskeyacres.com.