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Tampa Bay distilleries and breweries are making hand sanitizer. Here’s how they’re doing it.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many places quickly shifted gears.
Bradenton's Motorworks Brewing and Dark Door Spirits in Tampa recently joined forces to produce hand sanitizer made with distilled Pulp Friction.
Bradenton's Motorworks Brewing and Dark Door Spirits in Tampa recently joined forces to produce hand sanitizer made with distilled Pulp Friction. [ Courtesy of Motorworks Brewing ]
Published Apr. 7, 2020
Updated Apr. 7, 2020

Dark Door Spirits planned to turn the Pulp Friction Grapefruit IPA of Motorworks Brewing into a gin last month. The duo had teamed up in 2019 for a similar project, with the Tampa distillery creating a whiskey from the Bradenton brewery’s Midnight Espresso Coffee Porter.

But in this time of the coronavirus, they decided to switch gears, and fast.

The result of their latest collaboration? Hand sanitizer made with distilled Pulp Friction, the first batch of which was donated on March 20 largely to local first responders and nursing homes.

Dark Door has since shifted its attention away from liquor to the full-time production of hand sanitizer, an item that’s become hard to find in stores in Tampa Bay and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-owner Matt Allen said the distillery is converting its pot stills, the distillation equipment it normally uses for whiskey, into column stills to churn out about 200 gallons of sanitizer a week, if not more.

He’s focused on filling bulk orders placed by hospitals, health care facilities and municipalities.

“It’s a temporary thing. I don’t think we want to make hand sanitizer forever — whiskey’s a lot more fun,” Allen said. “But there’s a need, and we’re able to help fill that need.”

Other Tampa Bay businesses getting into the hand sanitizer game include St. Petersburg’s Kozuba & Sons Distillery and 3 Daughters Brewing, Tarpon Springs Distillery and St. Petersburg Distillery.

Big Storm Brewing Co. in Clearwater is doing it, too, to provide the product to those most in need and to keep its staff employed.

“We’re all in this together. We want to do our part. That’s the humanitarian side of the venture,” Big Storm co-owner L.J. Govoni said. “And like any business, we’re excited that we’re going to get to keep our people working. The demand for the product is just overwhelming.”

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has temporarily loosened regulations to allow distilled spirits permittees like Dark Door to produce ethanol, or pure alcohol, for hand sanitizer during the pandemic. Allen said his crew can do so, so long as they’re referencing a formula recommended by the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration.

The recipe Dark Door follows calls for ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and distilled water.

As for Big Storm, the application it filed with the federal government to begin making ethanol has been approved. This gives the brewery the green light to manufacture more than 200 gallons of commercially packaged sanitizer a day.

Govoni said many breweries use isopropyl alcohol to make their hand sanitizers. But being able to produce ethanol in-house means Big Storm doesn’t have to rely on the supply chain to score its sanitizer’s main ingredient.

Related: St. Petersburg’s 3 Daughters Brewing starts making hand sanitizer

Do distilleries or breweries have a leg up on hand sanitizer production? Yes and no, said Motorworks Brewing director of sales and marketing Barry Elwonger.

Motorworks didn’t have to change much to get fermented beer to Dark Door for distillation. However, neither of them typically keeps a high volume of glycerin or hydrogen peroxide on hand — or plastic bottles, which were difficult to find for the packaging of their first batch.

“As far as the ability to produce, yeah, we had some of the tools, we could switch over some of our systems. But the raw ingredients, the packaging and all that, that was pure resourcefulness on the fly,” Elwonger said.

Big Storm has a bit of an advantage, too. Govoni and his team were in the process of starting a beverage distillation entity for Big Storm spirits, so there was already a still for them to work with. The gang is now using three stills to continuously make sanitizer, and a fourth could be added to increase production soon.

The brewery will prioritize health care workers, first responders and state government agencies requesting sanitizer in bulk.

According to Govoni, making the item is sustainable for Big Storm.

“Unfortunately, we’re not Purell, so stuff costs more for us to procure ... we’re not making thousands of gallons in an hour. But it beats the alternative for most of our staff,” he said.

Allen echoed that sentiment: “We can’t make it as cheap as someone like Purell, but the problem is, Purell can’t make it fast enough.”

Although Dark Door makes a lot more money off a bottle of whiskey than it does a bottle of hand sanitizer, profit isn’t exactly the point.

“We’re making what we can and just filling in that gap,” Allen said.

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