Artisan distillers turn their hands to sanitizers

Sweet Orange + Gin Sanitizer produced by Victoria’s Nezza Naturals and Victoria Distillers is being donated to the region’s health-care workers. Supplied photo

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:


British Columbia

Alchemist Distiller

Ampersand Distilling Company

Anderson Distilleries

Arbutus Distillery

Bohemian Spirits

Copper Spirit Distillery

Dubh Glas Distillery

Fernie Distillers

Long Table Distillery

Mad Laboratory Distilling

Mainland Whisky

Misguided Spirits

Monashee Spirits

New Wave Distilling

Odd Society Spirits

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery

Pacific Rim Distillery

Salt Spring Shine Craft Distillery

Shelter Point 

Sheringham Distillery

Sons of Vancouver

Stillhead Distillery

Taynton Bay Spirits

True North Distilleries

Victoria Distillers

Wayward Distillery

Wiseacre Farm Distillery



Yukon Brewing / Two Brewers Whisky


Burwood Distillery

Black Diamond Distillery

Broken Oak Distilling Co

Confluence Distilling

Crosscut Distillery

Greenwood Distillers

Grit City Distillery

Last Best Brewing & Distilling

Park Distillery

Skunkworks Distillery

Strathcona Spirits Distillery

Two Rivers Distillery

Wild Life Distillery



Black Fox Farm and Distillery

Lucky Bastard Distillers

Smooth 42 Distillery

Stumbletown Distilling



Patent 5 Distillery


Black’s Distillery

Dairy Distillery

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers

Dixons Distilled Spirits

Junction 56 Distillery

Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

King’s Lock Craft Distillery

Last Straw Distillery

Limited Distilling

Murphy’s Law Moonshine

Niagara Distillery

O’Kenny Craft Spirits

Reid’s Distillery

Silver Fox Distillery

Spirit of York

Still Waters Distillery

Top Shelf Distillers

Wolfhead Distillery



BluePearl Distillery

Cirka Distilleries

Distillerie des Marigots

Distillerie de Québec

Distillerie Puyjalon

Distillerie Stadaconé

Nova Scotia

Barrelling Tide Distillery

Coldstream Clear Distillery

Compass Distillers

Ironworks Distillery

Raging Crow Distillery

Steinhart Distillery

Still Fired Distilleries

Tipping Point Distillers


Prince Edward Island

Deep Roots Distillery


Please contact the distilleries directly for more information.

—by Joanne Sasvari

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