British Columbia

B.C. distilleries are lifting spirits by making free hand sanitizer

"We're not an essential service at the end of it. We make alcohol for a living and this is just a teeny way that we can actually help and give back to our community."

'We make alcohol for a living and this is just a teeny way that we can actually help,' says distiller

The owner of Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery has been delivering surface cleaner and ethanol sanitizer that he's made for people with compromised immune systems. (Photo by Josh McLafferty)

While tasting rooms and bars across the province are shuttering to meet social distancing requirements from the province, some B.C. distillers have found a new use for their alcohol — making hand sanitizer.

One of the byproducts in the distillation process is a highly concentrated form of alcohol that usually distillers like Josh McLafferty, owner of Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery in Revelstoke, gets rid of.

Instead, he is now diluting it with water and packaging it so he can distribute it for free to people who need disinfectant.

"It's been phenomenal. In two days, we've gone through over 40 litres," he said.

The solution is 80 per cent alcohol and can be blended with either aloe vera to be applied as a gel, or just sprayed directly onto the skin.

McLaffferty is labelling the product as surface cleaner, or ethanol sanitizer, because Interior Health advised him that Health Canada sets the regulations for hand sanitizer and he has not had it tested by them.

"We're not an essential service at the end of it. We make alcohol for a living and this is just a teeny way that we can actually help and give back to our community," he said. 

Josh McLafferty closed down his cocktail lounge and distillery to the public to promote social distancing. (Submitted by Josh McLafferty)

Hand sanitizer has been in high demand across the country as people try to protect themselves from COVID-19.

McLafferty had to lay off his six staff members and close his cocktail lounge and distillery, but he has been busy filling requests for hand sanitizer for pick up, as well as delivering bottles to the doorsteps of people with compromised immune systems.

Local businesses have been donating spray bottles and containers for him to use.

"This community supported us so much in the last three years, we've been open this is the least we can do to get back to them."

Similarly on Vancouver Island, Victoria Distillers has been using the alcohol from the distillation of their Empress Gin to make hand sanitizer.

However, they've taken it a step further and partnered with Nezza Naturals to use their packaging and blend it with their essential oils to make it "smell nice and feel nice," said Jessalyn Peechie, marketing manager of Victoria Distillers. 

Their product comes in the form of a spray and is 70 per cent alcohol. 

"It's just a really nice way for us to even bring a small bit of relief in the crazy times that we're in at the moment," said Peechie.

Every distillation produces about 40 litres of alcohol byproduct that can be used to fill 840 bottles with 60 millilitres of free hand sanitizer.

"I think we're going to need as much as we can produce ... our phone is just ringing off the hook," said Sasha Prior, co-founder of Nezza Naturals. 

"It's pretty incredible how many essential services workers are completely out of hand sanitizer and that's the shocking part."

They're still determining a distribution plan, but Prior said that doctors, nurses and shelters have been contacting them, so they will be their top priority.

Prior hopes Nezza Naturals can either be a pickup point for the product or potentially arrange delivery through a courier.

"It's nice to focus our energy I think on something positive," said Prior.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Daybreak South and On The Island

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