Distillers Begin Producing Hand Sanitizer

Mar 25, 2020

As the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to ripple through North Carolina’s economy, businesses and manufacturers are doing whatever they can to stay afloat – and some of them are getting pretty creative.

Over the past week, BPR’s Cory Vaillancourt has been reporting from Haywood County on how schools are fighting hunger and how the food and beverage industry has been dealing with disruption.  For this story, he's at a distillery in Maggie Valley, where one local distiller has found a different use for his vodka.

In addition to producing premium whiskies and small-batch moonshines, Elevated Mountain Distilling Company in Maggie Valley is also home to a small bar, several food trucks and nightly bluegrass jams, but with Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 17 order closing bars and restaurants, all that came to a halt.

“Your world sort of stops when you hear that,” said Dave Angel, owner of Elevated Mountain. Cooper’s order not only shuttered Elevated Mountain’s bar, but also thousands of other bars and restaurants across the state. “That would be a huge part of any distillery’s business. We got into liquor stores, ABC stores here in North Carolina, but most of that will end up in a restaurant.”

With those restaurants no longer buying his spirits, Angel took immediate steps to bolster operations at the distillery.  “You immediately think about how do you protect the company though this, how do you survive this? Luckily, banks, the government, they’re all working to keep our economy going,” he said. “Our bank is being very creative with us to make sure that we weather this, so once you get past that you start looking at, okay what can we do now?”

What Angel is doing now is using his existing equipment and ingredients to manufacture a different product altogether.  “The federal government sent out a note to all distilleries in America saying, ‘This is how you make hand sanitizer. We need hand sanitizer,’” he said. 

Hand sanitizer starts off as 96 percent ethanol, something the fifth-generation Haywood County native knows a little something about – Angel has strong connections to Western North Carolina’s moonshining tradition.  After adding glycerin and hydrogen peroxide, you have hand sanitizer, which ends up with an alcohol content of about 80 percent.

Angel said he’d start with what he already has on hand – cases and cases of his award-winning vodka. 

“The rest of our ingredients should be here by Monday or Tuesday and by the end of next week we're hoping to have 200 or 250 gallons of hand sanitizer,” he said. “It will be Hurricane Creek vodka that's going into it.”

That sanitizer will be sold to Haywood County’s emergency services department, and, if there’s any left over, to the general public.