CORONAVIRUS

Swisher distillery turns alcohol into hand cleaner after COVID-19 strains supplies

Volunteers, including Laurie Quint (right), co-owner with husband Jeff Quint, fill bottles with hand cleanser Tuesday at
Volunteers, including Laurie Quint (right), co-owner with husband Jeff Quint, fill bottles with hand cleanser Tuesday at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery in Swisher. Businessman Steve Shriver and Ryan Sundermann, UnityPoint Health/St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency Department medical director, partnered with Cedar Ridge to develop and produce a 65 percent alcohol cleanser using byproducts from the distilling process. The bottles will be given away. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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SWISHER — A local distillery is partnering with an entrepreneur and doctor to make hand sanitizer, which has become difficult to find in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher has ample supplies of high-proof alcohol — a byproduct of its process for making vodka and gin — and began using its warehouse Tuesday morning to rapidly produce thousands of small containers of “hand cleanser” with 65 percent alcohol, to distribute free of charge.

“We are making this for free for the local community,” said Jeff Quint, owner of Cedar Ridge. “Between the two of us, we had all of the ingredients to make hand sanitizer that people at stores aren’t able to get.”

While hand washing with soap and water remains the best way to clean hands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol as an effective backup option for killing germs.

Hand sanitizer is among the most scarce products as customers clean off shelves at stores and online retailers, and some have attempted to price gouge on high-demand products.

Similar examples of distillers stepping up include ones in Clayton, Ga. and Portland, Ore., USA Today reported.

“We have something that people need and we can provide,” said Steve Shriver, owner of EcoLips, Brewhemia and Soko Outfitters in Cedar Rapids, who helped spur the idea. “Ideally we will give it away for free until it is back on the store shelf.”

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Shriver, Quint and Ryan Sundermann, an emergency department physician at St. Luke’s/UnityPoint Health, recognized the need in the community, the resources and expertise they had, and began working on the plan this past week.

Shriver said they’ve been researching and developing a formula and testing small batches for about a week before going into production Tuesday. While they are not officially calling it “hand sanitizer,” due to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, they have taken seriously the development of the product to meet the 60 percent alcohol threshold, they said.

Jen Johnson, director of innovation at EcoLips, a lip balm maker, caught wind of the idea and volunteered to help. She developed the formula after research.

A challenge was the availability of products. Rubbing alcohol and aloe vera — two main ingredients of do-it-yourself hand sanitizer — are sold out in many places.

Johnson developed a product of 14.2 percent water, 85 percent alcohol, .6 percent xanthan gum as a thickener and binder and .2 percent lavender oil. The xanthan gum is sprinkled into the water while blending. The alcohol is added while blending and emulsifying, and finally the lavender is added.

“I would have loved to use aloe vera gel, but I couldn’t get any,” Johnson said. “So we came up with the most simple recipe we could and added lavender for the skin and aromatherapy. It is soothing in a time of stress.”

“It feels awesome to be able to do something when things feel so helpless,” she added.

A small crew Tuesday morning was producing about 35 gallons of product, which would supply about 1,000 bottles. Shriver said they anticipate bottling again Thursday. They have supplies for about 5,000 bottles, and could get more, although sourcing bottles and pumps could become a problem.

Quint estimated the bottles cost about 50 cents each to make, but the cost is worth it.

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“I’ve been to the stores and seen the empty shelves, I’ve seen the panic,” said Laurie Quint, who is married to Jeff and was pumping the gel into hundreds of small bottles Tuesday morning. “This is one thing we can do to help.”

The bottles are available as of Tuesday at Cedar Ridge, 1441 Marak Road NW in Swisher, and will be beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday at NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids. Shriver said they will use a drive-up operation at the NewBo Market so that people wearing gloves would run it out to people’s vehicles.

Shriver noted he’s aware of some people stuck at home with medical conditions and medical offices that have run out of hand sanitizer, and said they would receive supplies first.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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