In response to the COVID-19 hand sanitizer shortages, Maggie’s Farm Rum is taking steps to distill its own.
Tim Russell, founder and head distiller at Maggie's, came across the idea as his wife searched for hand sanitizers to stock the distillery. “It was kind of a no-brainer in that the active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol,” he says.
Hand sanitizer production has been picked up by many alcohol producers as brands like Purell become harder to find. BrewDog, a Scottish-based brewery that recently opened a Pittsburgh outpost in East Liberty, has released their “punk sanitizer” to help with shortages in the UK. New York Distilling Co. has turned its Perry’s Tot Navy Strength gin into sanitizer for neighboring restaurants and bars.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that the concentration of alcohol for sanitizers is somewhere between 60% and 90%. (In the healthcare world, alcohol refers to ethyl or isopropyl.) Ethyl alcohol is a main piece of Maggie’s Farm rum, and according to the CDC, is considered to be bactericidal (kill bacteria) and virucidal (deactivate and destroy viruses), in this range. At less than 60% concentration, the ethyl alcohol loses its disinfecting properties.
“Most distilleries collect ethyl alcohol for spirits off the still in exactly that range,” ays Russell. “They're typically watered down to 40% before bottling.” (Tito’s Handmade Vodka has been compelled, in light of the shortages, to release a statement stating that its vodka alone is not strong enough to use as a hand sanitizer.)
For this reason, Russell is using a portion from early in the distillation process to make sanitizer, nothing already bottled.
Russell’s recipe is based on a spray sanitizer he found on Wired. It calls for a mix of isopropyl (in this case, ethyl) alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, distilled or boiled water, and glycerin (to keep the alcohol from drying out skin). The end product should be at least 70% alcohol by volume.
Federal regulations on distillery-produced hand sanitizers have recently been updated to match the needs of the pandemic. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has waived regulations surrounding the production of sanitizers. Any existing distilled spirits permit is now authorized to produce sanitizers, as long as they are consistent with the guidance from the World Health Organization.
The timeline for Maggie’s Farm hand sanitizer depends on the arrival of glycerin, which the distillery recently sourced from a compounding pharmacy. Russell’s final product will not be sold, instead, he’s planning to donate the supply to Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety.