Island distiller brewing up hand sanitizer

In response to the growing demand for hand sanitizer, one of Whidbey’s distilleries is fulfilling requests and converting its alcohol for this purpose.

Cadée Distillery in Clinton has been producing hand sanitizer for Washington first responders and health care facilities, most of which are located on the mainland.

During the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, the distillery was temporarily licensed by the federal government to produce certain alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

According to a press release from the Washington Distillers Guild, approximately 40 of the state’s 98 distilleries have already agreed to help make hand sanitizer for the cause.

The process involves adding chemicals to alcohol and denaturing it, making it unsuitable for drinking but useful as hand sanitizer.

As of Thursday morning, owner Colin Campbell said he had received requests for 38,000 liters of hand sanitizer, which he plans to respond to as much as he can.

“We have had to lay off employees after the [government] shutdown and hope that this new surge of requests will allow us to rehire those personnel,” he said.

The product must be 95 percent alcohol by volume, which is eventually bottled by the liter at 80 percent alcohol by volume, or 160 proof, as an alcohol-based antiseptic topical solution.

Part of the challenge is obtaining the denaturants, or chemicals added to the alcohol. Campbell said these industrial chemicals, which conform with what the FDA and the WHO recommend, must be ordered and delivered.

“I’ve been waiting for just over a week for chemicals that should have arrived in just 24 hours,” he said.

The final product is used as a spray, due to its liquid consistency. It is aesthetically different from most store-bought hand sanitizers, which use gels and foams and may not be as effective in killing germs.

Campbell said he will continue prioritizing requests from Washington and for first responders and health care facilities. He has not yet determined a price per bottle, but will be selling hand sanitizer starting Monday to these groups.

If the need should arise on Whidbey, he is ready to help out locally too. He is currently giving away 50 milliliter sample bottles to grocery stores on the island.

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