A year ago, you would have had no problem finding hand sanitizer on the shelf at any Walgreens, Safeway or 7-Eleven. These days: not so much. But since the product is relatively easy to make, distilleries all over the country that normally produce vodka, gin and whiskey are now turning out sanitizer in bulk to supply their local police and fire departments, along with hospitals and clinics that need it in large quantities to battle coronavirus.
Breweries aren't typically allowed to make hand sanitizer since the substance is based on highly potent ethanol (though federal regulators have temporarily loosened some restrictions on that), but beer can definitely be transformed into high-proof ethanol via distillation. As a result, several breweries and beer-industry organizations are donating beer to a variety of distillery-led joint projects around Colorado.
WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley was one of the first to jump into the fray in March, teaming up with Pine Bluffs Distilling in Wyoming, Tower 56 Distilling in Greeley and the soon-to-open Molly Brown Distillery in Denver, along with Root Shoot Malting, which donated corn, to produce more than 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.
In the past few weeks, the product has been distributed to more than 300 hospitals, medical facilities, city and county municipalities, nonprofit organizations and "essential" businesses in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.
New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins also got into the action quickly, donating hundreds of barrels of high-ABV beer to Leopold Bros, which used its laboratory-grade equipment to produce 250 gallons of hand sanitizer. The distillery gave the hand sanitizer to the Denver Fire Department and other first responders.
Blue Moon Brewing in RiNo has been working with its neighbors at Ironton Distillery and Crafthouse to produce hand sanitizer in bulk and in travel-sized containers. Blue Moon, which is owned by Coors, donated the supplies, while Ironton distilled the product into ethanol. Several of Coors's other small-batch breweries across the country have also been working with distilleries to produce sanitizer.
Elevation Beer Company in Poncha Springs, meanwhile, has teamed up with marijuana cultivator Pure Greens and Wood’s High Mountain Distillery to produce about 5,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, which have been distributed to people in need in Chaffee Country.
And in Del Norte, Three Barrel Brewing is working with 1874 Distilling at the Windsor Hotel to make hand sanitizer for "critical front-line personnel." Colorado Malting Company donated the malt.
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Perhaps the strangest and most dramatic beer-into-sanitizer project, though, comes from the Boulder-based Brewers Association, the national craft-beer trade group that hosts the Great American Beer Festival in Denver every year, along with the Craft Brewers Conference and the World Beer Cup.
The latter two events had been slated for mid-April, but had to be canceled along with all other public events because of the coronavirus crisis. Since the BA was hoping to go forward with the events, however, it waited until the last minute to call them off, so breweries continued to ship beer to Denver for the World Beer Cup competition. The result was that the organization ended up with a warehouse full of beer from 2,700 domestic breweries (most international entries hadn't yet made it to Denver).
Since lockdown restrictions and other considerations made it impossible to return the beer, the BA partnered with Denver Distillery and Ballmer Peak Distillery, both in Denver, who took all of that beer — some of the best beer in the country, in fact — to make sanitizer. To do it, BA staff and volunteers dumped thousands of cans and bottles into 275-gallon totes and delivered 1,500 gallons to the distilleries. The result was bottled last week.
And finally, Loveland's Root Shoot Malting, which supplies ingredients to breweries and distilleries all over Colorado, is donating 16,000 pounds of corn to distilleries statewide so that they can make hand sanitizer. The recipients so far include: Ballmer Peak Distillery, Big Fat Pastor Spirits, Conflagration Distilling, Denver Distillery, Golden Moon Distillery, Idlewild Spirits Distillery, Molly Brown Distillery, Rocker Spirits and the Block Distilling Co. The distilleries are in turn giving the sanitizer to police and fire departments, government agency employees, health care workers, charitable organizations and individual consumers.