Much as car makers were pressed into service to make tanks during World War II, today’s COVID-19 pandemic has led Black Button Distilling to turn over its operation from making spirits to manufacturing hand sanitizer.
“We are uniquely qualified to safely handle and bottle ethanol-based hand sanitizer, and we have an extensive network of contacts to bring bottles, labels, labor, and ingredients to bear,” said Jason Barrett, Black Button Distilling president and master distiller. “We are doing this to help our community, to hopefully save lives and to get our employees back to work. We want to do our part in these unprecedented times.”
Working through the Monroe County Medical Society, Barrett said on Thursday that the distillery already has 1,900 orders for sanitizer from medical practices, nursing homes, hospital units and others in the medical field and first responders.
Barrett said he let go of 96 workers on Sunday when authorities urged non-essential businesses to close. But by Monday, he’d found a way to re-employ at least the workers in Black Button’s distillery operation on Railroad Street. ( He couldn’t provide work for his far-flung sales staff.)
While perhaps 100 distilleries across the nation are making sanitizer, Barrett said, “I knew if we were going to make a difference, we were going to have to do this at scale — do 200 bottles an hour.”
Securing supplies hasn’t been simple but he expected bottling to begin Thursday afternoon.
“We’re going to be bottling through the night and starting to ship tomorrow morning, first in Monroe County and hopefully across” the area.
Black Button will use ethanol that had been destined for high-end vodka, and 750 ml glass bottles originally intended for spirits. Barrett has asked anyone with access to pallets of pump dispenser containers to reach out to him.
The sanitizer will be sold for $10 a bottle, covering just costs of making the product, including labor, Barrett said. It will not be sold to the public right now, aiming to satisfy demand for high-priority concerns at first.
Barrett said he has enough supplies on hand to produce 18,000 bottles, but hopes he can make 100,000. If production can be ramped up that high, high-risk operations can inquire about placing an order by emailing email@example.com.
While Black Button’s tasting room is not open, it’s still selling spirits with curbside delivery, like other bars and restaurants that have been shut down by state executive order.