Some Vermont distillers are changing up their production, to help provide a critical safety measure during the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic—which has been linked to seven known deaths in Vermont as of Tuesday afternoon.
"We've switched production gears 180 degrees," said Jeremy Elliott, the owner of Smugglers' Notch Distillery, a maker of craft vodka, gin, rum, and other high-end spirits.
Elliott's business is now taking a much-less diluted form of the vodka that goes into bottles for cocktails, using it to instead make an alcohol hand rub.
The distiller said the product follows World Health Organization recommendations for effectiveness since it contains 70% ethanol.
"It's been our social responsibility to get this out there as fast as we can," Elliott said of the cleansing hand rub.
While many of us are staying home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the little doses of protection are going to people who have to be out in the world—police officers, delivery drivers, gas station clerks and others.
"It's great to do something that's absolutely needed," said Chris Stead, the production lead for Smugglers' Notch Distillery.
Stead told NECN and NBC10 Boston it was a scramble to get materials, but the team is now moving thousands of bottles to those on the front lines.
Jean Crockett was one of the distillery's customers, on behalf of state workers.
"It's helping all our facilities," said Crockett, who works for the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services. "The hand sanitizers have been very hard to find, so we've been trying to resource every avenue to get product."
Other alcohol makers are also shifting production.
Caledonia Spirits, the makers of Barr Hill gin and vodka, started producing an alcohol hand rub and donating it to the Vermont Food Bank, the company said. Then, the state provided money for raw materials to obtain more bottles for frontline workers who wanted an extra layer of protection against the new coronavirus, the company said.
Caledonia Spirits noted it is not profiting off the hand sanitizer it is making.
Elliott said the same of his operation, explaining that while Smugglers' Notch Distillery is selling its hand rub to municipalities and business customers, it is not making money off it.
Elliott said he's only covering his costs and keeping paychecks flowing to his employees while they supply a needed service.
Another Vermont company, Mad River Distillers, has been providing alcohol hand rub to its neighbors in the Mad River Valley and outside its location in Burlington, free of charge, according to posts on the company's social media pages.
Supplies of that product have been limited to individuals receiving small amounts in containers for personal use, the posts said.
"People are pivoting, and Vermonters are always great at ingenuity; at creativity," observed Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, who praised this sector of the state's food and beverage industry. "The only way we're going to get through this is if we get through this together, and that's what's happening right now."
Monday, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, referenced the distillers and other businesses and individuals who have stepped up to provide assistance to their fellow Vermonters.
The governor urged more generosity and creativity as tools to get through the COVID-19 crisis.
Smugglers' Notch Distillery said it is glad to be playing a part in the state's response to the pandemic.
"This has been something that's really been able to lift our spirits," Stead said.