Helena's Gulch Distillers is making hand sanitizer out of 30 kegs of unused beer provided by George's Distributing.
According to Steffen Rasile, one of the distillery's co-owners, the business wanted to do anything it could to help those who need it most amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We never thought we would be doing this," Rasile said."But we've had to reinvent the business a few times in the past few weeks."
On Thursday, George's Distributing delivered the 30 kegs of beer it wouldn't be able to get into the hands of restaurants and bars before it expires. Gulch Distillers will distill the alcohol out of the mix. This will leave a waste product made of malt, hops and water, and the pure alcohol will be used to make the sanitizer.
"It's a very similar process to how we make our vodka," Rasile said.
Rasile said the distillery is using a hand sanitizer recipe provided by the World Health Organization. The end product is quite different than what many people might think of when they picture hand sanitizer. Rasile said it's more liquid than semi-solid and has a significantly higher alcohol content. It is also unscented.
The Gulch crew finished their first batch of hand sanitizer last Monday. That batch went to local first responders. The hand sanitizer is sold at a small price that covers the production costs, according to Rasile.
It took the distillery a while to wade through the red tape to get approval to produce hand sanitizer. Rasile said the Montana Distillers Guild was a great resource in that respect.
"We are just trying to get it out to the people who need it the most," Rasile said. "We felt like it was our duty to help out where we can. We are in a unique position, so we decided to step up."
The supply would have been much more limited without the beer provided by Helena-based George's Distributing. Tatum Curtis, who does design and marketing work at George's, credited the company's "culture of community" implemented by Chelsey and Jim George.
"Being part of this Helena community, we have a good relationship with Gulch," Curtis said. "The whole industry is having to be more nimble right now."
Curtis said George's doesn't usually have any problems distributing beer, but much of the product has been sitting in the warehouse because many bars and restaurants in the area have been forced to close. He said the company's goal was to take the loss and turn its waste into something that would help the community.
The distillery was deemed an essential service via orders from Gov. Steve Bullock, and Rasile said the business is splitting its time between producing hand sanitizer and drinking alcohol. The sanitizer will go to St. Peter's Health, which is serving as a distribution point, said Rasile. He said the distillery is also in talks with a few other groups to distribute sanitizer.
"This hand sanitizer went right up on the shelf with our other products," Rasile said. "We are proud of that too."
On the drinking alcohol front, Gulch is working on releasing its first-ever single-malt whiskey in the coming weeks. The business is still open for bottle sales and cocktail mixing kits. Patrons can place orders online at gulchdistillers.com. Curbside pickup is also available for the duration of the pandemic.
In this Series
- 17 updates
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.