Danville distillers switch gears, provide sanitizer during crisis

Published 5:14 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

Bottling the battle against COVID-19

140-proof prevention


Sugar cane alcohol imported from Brazil is being converted in Danville into a lavender-scented hand sanitizer instead of vodka as a way to help supplement sanitizer supply in Boyle County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AMBRAbev distillery produces BOTECO vodka and Espirito Cachaca out of sugar cane alcohol from Brazil. The distillery is also where The Still restaurant and bar operates out of which is located on the Danville bypass. 

But since the COVID-19 pandemic is straining local supplies of hand sanitizer used to help slow down the spread of the contagious virus, AMBRAbev master distiller and CEO Dr. Tom Baeker and his son and operations manager Ross Baeker, have begun using their supply of sugar cane alcohol as the base of an FDA approved “recipe” for producing hand sanitizer.

Thanks to the relaxing of rules by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, AMBRAbev and other distilleries have been allowed to manufacture sanitizer using their alcohol, Dr. Baeker said on Friday.

The business still has to pay the excise tax on their alcohol and they aren’t allowed to sell the sanitizer they make, Baeker explained. “We’re willing to pay that price.”

He is giving bottles of the sanitizer to Commonwealth Cancer Center, which is located next door, for them to hand out to their patients, he said. He also will deliver bottles to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. “We’re ready to move” if the hospital needs it, Baeker said. 

Baeker experimented with the first batch of sanitizer just four days ago, he said. The cane sugar alcohol at the distiller is 190 proof, which is 95% alcohol. But for a sanitizer to be effective against the virus, it only needs to be 60% or higher, he said. 

To make the best use of the cane sugar alcohol, they add distilled water to bring it down to 70% alcohol. And per FDA guidelines, they add 1.45% glycerine and 0.125 % hydrogen peroxide by volume.

“It’s a pretty simple recipe,” he said.

The Still at AMBRAbev’s hand sanitizer, “Is stronger then it needs to be,” he said.

To make it have a nice scent, he infused English lavender with a small amount of the alcohol and blended it all together.

They ordered a supply of 2-fluid ounce glass spray bottles, which was shipped right away. If they had purchased the less expensive bottles, they wouldn’t have received them until some time in April, he said.

The Baekers have produced a small batch of about 3.5 gallons of sanitize so far. They have enough to fill 250 bottles, and anticipate making another batch next week. “Our primary thrust was for immediate local purposes,” Baeker said.

“We can’t sell this stuff, so we’re giving it away. That was our intention,” Baeker said.

In addition to giving supplies to the cancer treatment center and offering them to the hospital, in order to help sustain their restaurant, they are sending a bottle of their own hand sanitizer with every two meals that are purchased for takeout or delivery.

“In the absence of our sit-down dining in the restaurant, this has given us a chance to focus on something constructive,” Baeker said.

Ross Baeker said they will also be working with Wilderness Trace Distillery. “It will be a cooperative effort.”

Tom Baeker said they have been in contact with Wilderness Trace, which is a much larger facility and is capable of producing massive amounts of sanitizer, and they are offering whatever help they can provide to the bourbon distillers. AMBRAbev can produce up to 100 gallons if necessary. However they can add their neutral spirits with Wilderness Trace’s alcohol which where they can process much more sanitizer efficiently, Baeker said.

Today (Saturday), Wilderness Trail Distillery will begin using its ethanol alcohol to produce hand sanitizer for Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, according to a news release. The distillery plans to produce 500 gallons a week for the next six to seven weeks.

“If we need to continue from there, we will,” said Shane Baker, master distiller and distillery co-owner.

Danville’s health department and city manager are working to coordinate distribution of the remainder of the hand sanitizer for use by emergency service personnel.

“Our goal is to take care of the healthcare providers,” Baker said.