Businesses that came to the rescue in the early says of the pandemic are going back to making booze.

By Mike Pomranz
August 04, 2020
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When the closure of bars and restaurants due to COVID-19 left distilleries without one of their biggest sales outlets, a new solution came to mind, one that almost seemed too good to be true: Some were able to produce ethyl alcohol, which could then be used as the key ingredient in hand sanitizer, something that—due to the coronavirus—was in very high demand. However, as the pandemic has dragged on, a new issue has apparently emerged: We may finally have reached sanitizer saturation.

Over the course of the pandemic, the price of sanitizer has dropped from $50 per gallon to around $15 per gallon, according to the New York Times. In the beginning, smaller distilleries served as a stopgap solution to fill the sudden surge in demand. But by June, the market reportedly began to stabilize as things like panic buying subsided and the major players like Purell were able to ramp up their own production. Granted, many distillers were switching to sanitizer as a way to help their local communities, but the financial benefits also helped keep them afloat. As the sanitizer market has become more complicated, many distilleries have realized it’s better to go back to making booze—thought at least some still have sanitizer they’re struggling to sell.

A distillery worker bottles small-batch sanitizer.
Al Bello / Staff/Getty Images

Phil McDaniel—owner of Florida’s St. Augustine Distillery and president of the Florida Distillers’ Guild—told the Times that, after producing 10,000 gallons of sanitizer, he’s still has about 1,000 gallons left. “In the beginning, it was just unbelievable, the sort of frenetic demand that was out there… It was so gratifying to us to be able to come in and help,” he was quoted as saying. But as the situation has sunk in, and businesses prepare for the long hall, his thought process has changed. “At the end of the day, our core business is making really great alcohol… To be able to get back to business and have demand for that and to sell it profitably is what we’re all looking for right now.”

Last month, Blake Amacker—co-owner of Copper Cannon Distillery in New Hampshire—offered a similar sentiment to the Union Leader: They were turning their focus back to making rum. Though if you need sanitizer, he said they still have about 300 gallons left: In fact, they were giving away free eight-ounce bottles to anyone who dropped in for a visit.

But as sanitizer sales have sunk, that doesn’t necessarily mean that booze sales have returned. Speaking with Texas’s KENS 5 News earlier this week, Ken Fey, general manager at Maverick Whiskey in San Antonio, said he was worried about his business’s future. “Our sales have gone down some 75 percent, and once the market caught up on sanitizer, we didn't have any more of those sales either,” he explained. In the end, it shows that—though sanitizer may have helped at the beginning—unfortunately, most distilleries have no magic solution to stem the damages of this pandemic.