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caption: This corn was donated to Woodinville Whiskey Company as it starts making hand sanitizer on Monday, March 23, 2020.
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This corn was donated to Woodinville Whiskey Company as it starts making hand sanitizer on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Credit: Courtesy of Woodinville Whiskey Company

Washington distillers switch from spirits to sanitizer

To help fight the spread of the coronavirus, dozens of distillers around Washington are slowing down beverage alcohol production to make hand sanitizer instead.

Orlin Sorensen, co-founder of Woodinville Whiskey Company, said the eastside distillery stopped making bourbon and rye on Monday – and switched to hand sanitizer.

“We're basically going to be producing a high proof vodka off the still,” Sorensen said.

That high proof vodka will get watered down, mixed with some hydrogen peroxide and glycerin, and the result is sanitizer that meets CDC standards.

The Washington Distillers Guild said Woodinville is one of about 30 distilleries across the state that together will make 3,000 gallons of sanitizer each week.

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Guild president Mhairi Voelsgen said this is their “Dunkirk moment.”

Sorensen said Woodinville Whiskey has received requests for sanitizer from King County Public Health and the City of Kirkland. Kirby Kallas-Lewis, founder of OOLA Distillery in Capitol Hill, said they’ve been contacted by Veterans Affairs in Seattle.

Right now Sorensen says all of the sanitizer made at Woodinville will be donated to hospitals and public health agencies, but there could be some available to the public in the future.

caption: Woodinville Whiskey Company has about 20 employees who will start making hand sanitizer full-time on Monday, March 23, 2020.
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Woodinville Whiskey Company has about 20 employees who will start making hand sanitizer full-time on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Credit: Courtesy of Woodinville Whiskey Company

“We might have the ability to have a fill-your-own station,” Sorensen said. “Where we have basically a drum and a pump where you come with your own containers and fill that up.”

He’s also not worried about a local drop in whiskey supply as a result of distilleries slowing down regular production.

The whiskey on liquor store shelves now, Sorensen said, was made years ago and there is plenty of product still aging now. Mhairi Voelsgen, of the Washington Distillers Guild, said there may be a whiskey shortage in Washington in a few years from but said, “we’re doing what needs to be done to protect public health in this crisis.”

Sorensen said the decision to halt usual business and make a product to be donated came as “no-brainer” after feeling like the distillery had to something to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“We're gonna start here in our local community and throughout Washington state and try to give back to those that have helped us build our business over the past ten years,” he said.

Making hand sanitizer is pretty easy for a distillery, Sorensen said, but they may have to get creative with their packaging.

The plan now is to use large, food-grade containers to send to public health agencies but those supplies have been drying up since the outbreak of the virus.

“If that means putting it in whiskey bottles, that’s what we’ll do,” Sorensen said.

He said the first batch of Woodinville sanitizer will be ready by next week.

Health care providers and first responders who need sanitizer can each out to sanitizer@washingtondistillersguild.org or call 206-496-2613 to ask about availability.