GIG HARBOR, Wash. — It's a noisy operation bottling hand sanitizer at Heritage distillery's Gig Harbor plant. Machines pour a clear mixture into bottles originally meant for whiskey, gin and vodka. Crew members all wear masks to prevent contamination of the bottles.
Heritage CEO and co-founder Justin Stiefel says he made the switch when he heard about nationwide shortages of hand sanitizer as the coronavirus spread in Washington and he was forced to lay off employees.
“And then one day we woke up and said, we got people asking for hand sanitizer, we got the equipment, let’s go to work,” Stiefel said.
Stills have been repurposed, even taking other alcoholic products and getting them ready to become sanitizer.
“In this case the equipment behind me,” Stiefel said pointing toward the massive copper distiller, “we’re taking red wine now from a local winery. We’re pulling the alcohol out. And then we’re going to add hydrogen peroxide and glycerin and boiled water or distilled water and that’s the component for hand sanitizer.”
Steifel went a step further creating a service for customers staying at home allowing them to order sanitizer and liquor, delivered to their doorstep from Heritage's tasting rooms including five locations in Washington and one in Oregon.
“And so make sure your hands are clean and your attitude is good,” said Stiefel.
At Heritage's Gig Harbor tasting room people lined up to buy sanitizer. They can even get it on tap to refill bottles they have already purchased. Customers say they've looked at other stores for sanitizer and can't find it.
“I checked the local stores and they’re definitely short on supplies,” said Chris Bahus. “We’re buying it for our offices,” said Amy Kalafatich. “We’re an essential business but we can get it, our corporate offices are unable to get sanitizer now.”
Stiefel says the federal government will allow distilleries to make hand sanitizer up to June 30th30. But the deadline could be extended if the COVID-19 crisis continues.