'Demand's been high': Niagara distiller making free hand sanitizer for police, health-care workers, others

Ordinarily, Geoff Dillon spends his days making vodka, gin, absinthe and other spirits at his small batch distillery in Beamsville, Ont. But these days, he's making something else — hand sanitizer. 

'It's not that hard to make.… We have a building full of alcohol,' says Geoff Dillon

Dillon's, a small batch distillery, has made free hand sanitizer for paramedics, police and others. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ordinarily, Geoff Dillon spends his days making vodka, gin, absinthe and other spirits at his small batch distillery in Beamsville, Ont. But these days, he's making something else — hand sanitizer. 

The owner of Dillon's Small Batch Distillers has been using alcohol and store-bought aloe to make free hand sanitizer for local police, hospitals, long-term care homes and municipalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dillon's isn't the only distillery stepping up during this crisis. Distillers across Canada and the United States, including Limited Distilling in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Spirit of York Distillery and Reid's Distillery (both in Toronto), are also making hand sanitizer.

Dillon started Friday, and by Wednesday morning, will have distributed 3,000 bottles to police officers, front-line health-care workers, Meals on Wheels and Hamilton paramedics, among others.

'It's been crazy,' says Dillon, about the demand for his hand sanitizer. 'No one's really sure what to think.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Now, he's out of aloe, and he's providing bottles of 65 per cent alcohol, which works as a disinfectant. Dillon tweeted about its availability Tuesday afternoon, and now he's drowning in hundreds of emails and "a table full of Post-it notes."

Dillon is happy to do it, but said it's chilling how many of these crucial agencies need supplies.

"We're a little scared because demand's been high," said Dillon, whose wife is a family doctor. 

"It's a lot of people that we thought could get these things, and it's kind of shocking. The City of Hamilton doesn't have any hand sanitizer left?"

Dillon said it started last week when the distillery put a basket of small bottles of hand sanitizer at the entrance, free to anyone who wanted one. Then the Niagara Regional Police Service reached out to him. ("We have received a small supply of hand sanitizer from Dillon's Distillers," confirmed police spokesperson Stephanie Sabourin.)

Dillon's was using alcohol and aloe, but has run out of aloe. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Since then, Dillon said, he's gotten calls from local midwives, long-term care homes, food banks, Meals on Wheels and community living agencies.

"It's not that hard to make, to be honest with you," he said. "We have a building full of alcohol. Why not? Let's get them out there."

Dillon said he's putting it in little bottles he'd normally use for bitters, since he can't find any plastic bottles. "Stocks are all out," he said, "and nothing's moving very fast around the world."

Dillon said he never imagined making hand sanitizer, but he also wasn't expecting a pandemic.

"It's a very strange time. Now, we're a hand sanitizer company, although we're not selling it, so it's not really a company."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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