On March 13, New Basin Distilling Co.'s Wild Will Wheat Whiskey 100 took gold and best of class at Distilled: The San Diego Spirit & Cocktail Competition.
Less than a week later, the same equipment that was used to make the whiskey was distilling cleaning spray and hand cleaning lotion instead.
Co-owner Rick Molitor said he and his partners decided to make the switch when they heard there was a need for hand sanitizer. With stores unable to keep sanitizers and cleaners in stock, they wanted to make sure people who needed a virus killer could get it.
"It's 70% alcohol, and we make alcohol," he said. "It wasn't a difficult decision."
The distillery is moving to a formula that is 80% alcohol — and that with a specific proof, which is being recommended by the World Health Organization. The hand cleaning lotion includes ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol and sterile water. Molitor said it isn't antibacterial, but it is believed to be effective on viruses. The spray is meant to sanitize surfaces. It shouldn't be diluted or wiped off.
The FDA has put out guidelines for distilleries who are producing sanitizers, but it has stopped short of approving them as a pharmaceutical.
That hasn't stopped people from buying. New Basin is producing about 70 gallons of the two cleaners a day, and they've had a steady stream of customers.
"We've been swamped," Molitor said.
He was worried that Gov. Kate Brown's decision to enforce social distancing and work from home might mean New Basin would have to stop operations, but with distancing rules in place, including the option to honk in the parking lot, the distillery can keep up the work.
"And we're constantly sanitizing ourselves," Molitor said. He sprays his iPhone four or five times a day, he said.
At first, Molitor said he was filling people's personal containers and dumping out water bottles for the products. Now he's using jugs, thanks to someone who had a shop full, and labels, thanks to Brandon Searcy at RipQ Signs & Graphics.
Molitor said his mission is to get the cleaners into the hands of people who need them.
He's sold to law enforcement, health care providers, day cares and senior centers, as well as the agricultural community.
"They need to keep their crew healthy and safe" for spring planting, Molitor said.
He is focused on the highest-need population, but anyone can buy the products. And he's promised to work with people who can't afford them.
"It's been crazy," said Josh Hatfield, Molitor's partner in the business.
Hatfield said he saw the need and told Molitor they needed to get on it. On Tuesday, March 17, they started the work, and by Wednesday, March 18, they were distilling.
As far as Hatfield knows, New Basin is the only distillery in Central Oregon making sanitizers. Molitor sold 55 gallons to a man from Harney County who couldn't get them anywhere else.
Pints of hand cleaning lotion are $15, as are pints of sanitizing spray.
A half-gallon of the spray is $25, and a gallon is $45.
"We're not trying to thrive," Molitor said. "We're trying to survive."
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