The following story is taken from ecoRI News
By GRACE KELLY/ecoRI News staff
People talk about making lemonade out of lemons in the dourest of times. But for distilleries in Rhode Island — and across the country — the analogy of making lemonade out of lemons means making hand sanitizer out of ethanol.
“We hadn’t really even fully opened yet, we had been in the friends and family soft-opening phase,” said Manya Rubinstein, CEO of the Industrious Spirit Company (ISCO) on Sims Street in Providence. “We were set to open at the end of April, but we postponed that, and like everyone else, we were trying to figure out what we could do to help in the meantime.”
Then, they realized that the answer was sitting in their still.
“We’re the first distillery in Providence since prohibition, and we’re making everything from scratch on site, so we’re able to produce high-proof ethanol,” Rubinstein said.
High-proof ethanol is a key ingredient in hand sanitizer, which has been hard to get your hands on during the coronavirus pandemic. So, in addition to making their liquor, ISCO is also making hand sanitizer.
“What we’ve been doing is using a byproduct of our process; the first alcohol that comes off the still isn’t good for drinking but is a really good cleanser and good for making hand sanitizer,” Rubinstein said. “As soon as all this started happening it became clear that there was a real need.”
She noted that in the future, ISCO will partner with East Providence specialty chemical producers Reade Advanced Materials to produce the next round of sanitizer.
“We’re talking to local agencies to see if we can scale up our production, not necessarily just using a byproduct, and produce more sanitizer because the need is so great.”
The public can head over to ISCO, 1 Sims St., and drive up to its #WishWeCouldWindow between 1 and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to pick up a free bottle of hand sanitizer to cleanse hands — and perhaps buy a bottle of vodka to cleanse minds (the business asks that you prepay via its website in advance).
“It’s absolutely not required to purchase vodka; we’re very happy to just give sanitizer to people, but some people have bought vodka and they’ve been saying its cleansing for their insides,” Rubinstein said with a laugh.
Sons of Liberty, a South Kingstown distillery that makes bourbon, whiskey, and hard lemonade, among other alcoholic beverages, also answered the call for hand sanitizer.
“It’s been a whirlwind, so I don’t remember the exact ‘Aha!’ moment,” said Bryan Ricard, the company’s marketing director. “But I just remember thinking, ‘Hey, why don’t we make hand sanitizer?’ The basic formula set forth by the World Health Organization, something like 84 percent of the volume is ethanol, so it’s like OK we have the number-one ingredient, it just makes sense.”
The distillery teamed up with Java Skin Care to offer bottled hand sanitizer to the public in a drive-thru operation at the Peace Dale Elementary School in Wakefield on March 23. The partners hope to host another such sale in the near future.
In the meantime, they have created an online form that local businesses can use to order gallon jugs of hand sanitizer.
John Hopkins Medicine has noted that experts agree that the best method for cleaning hands is washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
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