Georgia distilleries are stepping up to combat shortages and keep workers employed by switching production from spirits to hand sanitizer. As panicked people rushed to stores to stock up as the coronavirus warning spread, aisles in grocery and convenience stores and gas stations were quickly cleaned out of essentials like cleaning supplies, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
It's a constant point of discussion among local distillers, according to Georgia Distillers Association Vice President Jim Chasteen.
"Trying to keep as many employees as you can, that’s probably the biggest topic of conversation right now, but item number two, as you know, is there an opportunity to provide hand sanitizer to the community," Chasteen said. "Is there an opportunity to produce it for a possible way to generate revenue? All those things kind of tie together."
In response to the national public health emergency, the Food and Drug Administration announced in March they would not take action against compounders making hand sanitizing products for consumers or health care workers as long as they followed the FDA's requirements to ensure products are safe and effective.
A local distillery in Atlanta has already made the switch. Instead of producing and bottling whiskey, Old Fourth Distillery will now produce hand sanitizer.
The distillery first announced its new endeavor on Instagram March 11. Anyone in need was allowed to visit the distillery and receive hand sanitizer free of charge. The first batch was scooped up in a matter of days, according to one of their posts on Instagram. Due to overwhelming demand, the company ordered more supplies to continue production.
As COVID-19 continued to spread, so did the demand for hand sanitizer. On March 20, the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus jumped to 420 with 13 deaths in Georgia. Old Fourth Distillery is no longer providing hand sanitizer to the public. The company recently shifted their focus to providing sanitizer for emergency first responders in an effort they have dubbed “Hand Sanitizer for Heroes”.
The public response has been overwhelming with people both near and far praising the company on their social media.
Chasteen is also the co-founder of ASW Distillery in Atlanta. He said ASW and a number of other distilleries in the state are currently working to find a way to convert its distilleries to produce hand sanitizer. Not all spirits are created equal, however. Some spirits are produced using equipment better suited to the production of hand sanitizer such as vodka, while other distilleries have to make a few more changes in order to make the production of sanitizer efficient, he added.