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Hot Springs distillery makes switch from liquor to sanitizer

by Tanner Newton | April 5, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.
Mary Bradley (left), co-owner of Crystal Ridge Distillery in Hot Springs, fills an order of hand sanitizer for customer David Hamilton on Friday, April 3, 2020.

HOT SPRINGS -- Crystal Ridge Distillery in Hot Springs has joined the effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic by turning its drinkable alcohol into hand sanitizer.

The distillery has received a temporary permit to follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for mixing and making the hand sanitizer for the public, said co-owner Mary Bradley.

"We have to denature the alcohol, add glycerin and hydrogen peroxide and proof it down to 80%. It is watery, compared to your hand gel that you usually buy at the store, but the CDC is saying that the hand sanitizers now need to be at least 70% to kill the virus, and ours is at 80."

Hand sanitizer has been difficult to come by, and Bradley said the company decided to start making it after a Hot Springs emergency room physician related that it is also difficult for the medical community to find.

After researching what it takes to produce hand sanitizer, Bradley said the company decided to proceed, but it took about three weeks for it to make the first batch.

"We had to order truckloads of ingredients," Bradley said.

But, she said, switching from making alcoholic beverages to hand sanitizer wasn't that big of a change. "It's pretty similar."

She said the FDA granted the temporary license to make hand sanitizer because they already had a license to distill. The temporary license expires at the end of June, but if the pandemic continues past June, she said the business can get an extension to continue making it.

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The first shipment of ingredients arrived March 29. Bradley said they started making the sanitizer that day, "for a few hours," but the next day is when they really ramped up production.

Sales of the sanitizer over the first week, Bradley said, were strong. "Business has been good," and "we've gotten calls from all over the state." She said the Hot Springs community has been supportive of the effort.

Sales, so far, Bradley said, have been mostly to Hot Springs area people and organizations. A lot of it was to nursing homes. "Had a lot of business from nursing homes," she said.

Crystal Ridge is selling the sanitizer in three sizes -- a 750-milliliter bottle, a 1-gallon jug and a 5-gallon container. The small size is $15, the medium is $50, and the large container is $250.

Bradley said the hardest part of making the sanitizer has been finding containers to put it in. While the business was able to find the 1- and 5-gallon containers, she said, it hasn't been able to find the smaller ones because they are made overseas.

To solve the problem, Bradley said, they are using their liquor bottles for the hand sanitizer.

Another truckload of supplies to make the hand sanitizer is expected this week.

Bradley said that for the moment, there are four people working in the distillery, all family members. She said they are "just helping us out until we can bring our employees back." She said the four of them "are handling it pretty well," but they are "just putting in 18-hour days right now."

The distillery is open from Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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