Three area distillery companies are joining in the fight against COVID-19 by making hand sanitizer for the local medical community and first responders.
MB Roland Distillery of Pembroke, Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville and Old Glory Distilling Co. in Clarksville, are partnering in production to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will be gainfully employed in the hand sanitizer business for the next — I’m going to say — months,” said Paul Tomaszewski, who co-owns the distillery with his wife, Merry Beth.
After more than 10 years in the bourbon, whiskey and moonshine-making industry, Tomaszewski said the distillery partnership is important to manufacture gallons of hand sanitizer for quick and efficient distribution to medical facilities, nursing homes, home health providers and first responders.
“It’s an easy way … and an expedient way to help this situation, help the community, help the medical community, help the individual,” said Peg Hays, co-owner of Casey Jones Distillery with her husband, AJ. “There’s not a much better way that we can help right now.”
Established in 2014, Casey Jones normally produces a variety of spirits, including moonshine and bourbon, but that will change this week, at least temporarily.
The distilleries each have Distilled Spirits Plan licenses, as well as the appropriate equipment, enabling them to transition from spirits to hand sanitizer production. Additionally, Tomaszewski said the government paperwork involved in this type of operation has been streamlined from what may usually take a month to only a few days.
“In less than 48 hours, we went from a normal beverage distillery to this,” he said.
“We have this license. We have a facility where we are accustomed to blending materials together. We’re 5 miles from an almost limitless supplier of (alcohol) — the ethanol plant, Commonwealth Agri Energy in Hopkinsville.”
Instead of their usual corn for production, the distillers will be using new ingredients.
“This is the World Health Organization’s recipe of pure alcohol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide,” Tomaszewski said. “Ninety% of it is alcohol. It’s in liquid form and works best in a spray bottle versus when you typically think of gel as a hand sanitizer.”
By mid-week, he said all three distilleries should be making hand sanitizer. He said they could be producing up to 16,200 gallons per week for distribution at a resonable cost.
“We have to do this as much as we can,” he said. “This is for the front lines — the hospitals, nursing homes and places like that — where the more that they can keep things clean and keep this stuff from spreading, it will help us all get through this quicker.”
To speed the distribution process, Tomaszewski said they are not planning to bottle the product at this time. Instead they will be packaging the product in 270-gallon plastic totes for bulk orders.
“We’re going to blend it together and tell folks (at the facilities) to come and get it by the gallon,” he said.
Tomaszewski said bottling the hand sanitizer is not as efficient as packing it in bulk containers. He added that different equipment would be needed than for bottling bourbon.
“At the end of the day you want to get it where it needs to go as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said.
Eric Lee, CEO Jennie Stuart Health, said the hospital appreciates the distilleries’ efforts.
“Jennie Stuart Health is so appreciative to MB Roland and other community organizations that have truly rallied to support not only Jennie Stuart but also our first responders and others having needs during this time,” he said. “MB Roland is a generous business partner and we are grateful for their donation of cleaning alcohol and hand sanitizer.”
Although the medical community and first responders are the primary clientele for the hand sanitizer at this time, Tomaszewski said when the production volume increases, the public will have access to the supply.
For both MB Roland, at 137 Barkers Mill Road, and Casey Jones at 2815 Witty Lane, the transition to the hand sanitizer business means they can put some of their employees back to work.
As of Monday, Hays said they have laid off about 80% of their staff and anticipated all employees would be without a job had this new venture not presented itself.
“(Making hand sanitizer) will also put our workers back to work, which is very important,” Hays said.
“We’re going to keep as many people as we can,” Tomaszewski said. “If we have to call people back because we are doing so much of this, then we’ll do that as well.”
Tomaszewski noted that a similar situation happened during World War II with industrial alcohol.
“Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky back then were producing industrial alcohol for the war effort,” he said. “This is interesting that this is happening again. With modern times and communication, this has evolved very, very quickly to try to meet this demand.”
Until they get production in motion, Hays requested no phone call inquiries, noting that posts will be made to the Casey Jones Facebook page and website. Tomaszewski said when facilities call MB Roland at 270-640-7744, they need to request enough hand sanitizer for up to a month.
“It feels right to do this and take our regular business and put that on hold and make that secondary for however long it needs to be that way,” Tomaszewski said.
“We understand the need,” Hays added. “That’s our goal — to take care of our community.”