A week ago, Peter Hunt had just returned to Victoria from a trip to New York when he decided to go shopping. But customers concerned about COVID-19 had gotten there before him.
“I was in the stores and there was no hand sanitizer around,” says the president of Victoria Distillers. “Then I was chatting with my wife, who works in the public service, and my aunts and uncles, who are paramedics, and they were having trouble finding hand sanitizer, too. Trying to find it was stressing them out.
“And I thought, we have all this byproduct from making Empress Gin, the heads and tails, that we typically dispose of.” That byproduct, he realized, would be ideal for making hand sanitizer, which needs to be at least 60% alcohol by volume.
During distillation, “heads” are the volatile first spirits to come off the still and the unpleasant “tails” are the last. In between them, of course, is the “hearts,” the potable ethanol that becomes delicious gin or whisky.
Heads and tails are toxic and should not come into direct contact with skin, though, so Hunt decided to find a partner who could turn them into a usable product. He contacted Victoria-based Nezza Naturals. Not only could they produce the a 70% ABV hand sanitizer using vegetable glycerin and orange blossom water, but “they actually had a bunch of plastic spray bottles that they were discontinuing.”
They delivered the first batch to local hospitals and clinics—for free—on Wednesday and are producing a few hundred bottles a day, every day, for now.
“We’re not selling it and we have no plans to,” says Hunt. “We’re just going to continue doing this until the commercial versions become available again.”
The response has been really positive, he says. But more importantly, “I feel pretty good to be able to help out with what’s going on. It makes you feel like you’re contributing, and it takes your mind off the news.”
Victoria Distillers is not the only distillery turning out sanitizer during this crisis; dozens of them across Canada are making use of their byproducts to fill a crucial gap. According to Artisan Distillers Canada, they include the following:
Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery
Salt Spring Shine Craft Distillery
Yukon Brewing / Two Brewers Whisky
Last Best Brewing & Distilling
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers
Prince Edward Island
Please contact the distilleries directly for more information.
—by Joanne Sasvari