A month ago, Lawrence Batterton, the owner of King Floyd’s Bar Provisions in Novato, got the notice that all of us did. Californians were to shelter in place.
“At first there was a shock that everyone went through,” says Batterton. “But then it comes to you. What do we do now?”
Batterton has worked in the herbal extract business for over 20 years. Cocktail bitters are a relatively new item for him. King Floyd’s Bitters: aromatic, orange, etc. were all developed from his experience with digestive bitters, an item sold in most health food stores.
“We had just got a big order of 190 proof alcohol, which is what we make our product base with,” he says. “We essentially reduce that to 110 proof for extraction and then dilute it further for bottling.”
According to the FDA, hand sanitizer must be at least 60 percent alcohol (120 proof) in order to be effective. And as everyone knows, is in extremely short supply.
“We use 170 proof alcohol (85 percent) every day to clean everything in the lab,” says Batterton. “Hand sanitizer is just that with some glycerin added. We have all the raw materials. Let’s make some.”
“It’s a very simple recipe, water, alcohol and glycerin,” he says. “We started by getting it out to our friends, colleagues and what not, and thought that if we had any left over, we might be able to sell that.”
One of those colleagues was Josh Opatz of Young and Yonder Spirits in Healdsburg (H.O.B.B.S. gin, Armont vodka, Stave Robber Bourbon), which as a distillery operates under different licensing.
“We looked at the shelves drying up and asked ourselves, what can we do to help to fill the void as best we can?” says Opatz. Hand sanitizer seemed the natural way to go.
“We are a small-scale producer, but we have been able to produce a decent amount of product. We’ve been giving some away and selling some, following different paths to help people in need.”
The State of California acted quickly in this crisis, immediately loosening restrictions on distributing alcohol specifically for this coronavirus outbreak. Small scale distilleries can sell more product directly to consumers than ever before. California is also allowing restaurants, under certain circumstances, to do “take out” or delivery of pre-made cocktails.
Meanwhile, Hanson of Sonoma, a much larger scale distilling operation (Hanson vodka, Hanson whiskey, and two tasting rooms, one in Sonoma and one in Sausalito, both temporarily closed), also took notice.
“It all happened in the course of a few days,” says Scott Hanson. “We were contacted by a couple of the big hand sanitizer companies, they were running out of alcohol, and they weren’t able to buy at any of the places they normally do.”
Hanson was skeptical, “We’ve got those types of calls over the years from people who wanted to buy our product and repackage it, and we’ve always said no to that. But, the first deal was supposed to be for first responders, and that’s a good use.”
He quickly realized that there was no accountability. “For us to verify that it went to first responders, or even stayed in the SF area, was impossible. We couldn’t be sure it served our immediate community as much as we would like for it to.”
Hanson decided to do it themselves. “We had to lay people off because our tasting rooms were closed down. Why don’t we bring some of them back and do hand sanitizer for people here in the Bay Area?”
Hanson is different from most distilleries because they make their entire production at one time of the year. “It’s made from wine, which only comes in at one time,” says Hanson. He posits that most grain-based spirits makers can get grain year around, so they don’t have, or need, the capacity to store an entire year’s worth of product.
“We have plenty of alcohol. Our first obstacle was finding the equipment to fill the small bottles,” Hanson says. They reached out to a pasta sauce maker they had previously worked with for a filler.
Then it was finding the bottles. Hanson’s son Brandon contacted 73 companies, and finally found a source. “The bottles are out there if you look hard enough for them,” says Hanson. “But the spray tops are impossible to find. At least in the United States. Most packaging comes from China.”
As a result, Hanson’s hand sanitizer comes in a variety of sizes. “Every week it changes,” he says. “One week we have 2 and 4 ounces, then we have 4 and 8 ounces. Whatever we get in, we bottle, all based on what’s coming in the door. And everything we bottle is going right back out.”
Initially Hanson’s sold a portion and donated a portion. “Now we distribute to almost all of the North Bay Police and Fire Departments. We supply some hospitals. We distribute to PG&E. There is far more need than we can provide.”
Hanson bottles during the week and releases their product both online and curbside on Friday at 10 a.m. “We sell out within an hour or two,” he says.
King Floyd’s, Hanson, Young and Yonder, as well as many other local distilleries are taking advantage of the new laws regarding their standard products, but they are also stepping up by supplying their local communities with much needed hand sanitizer.
“At the end of the day everybody has been helping everyone else and it’s a pretty nice thing,” says Hanson
Curbside pickup is offered by all three companies. Delivery is possible with Hanson and both Young and Yonder and King Floyd’s offer free hand sanitizer with a minimum purchase.