Iowa distillery making hand sanitizer facing challenges

Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 19:30:35-04

EARLING, Iowa (KMTV) — A distillery in Shelby County, Iowa has switched from producing vodka and bourbon to hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lonely Oak Distillery in Earling, Iowa started making hand sanitizer two weeks ago. Its owners, Pat and Amy Hoffmann, were both former health care workers and wanted to do their part to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

“We know what it’s like to be on the front lines and need supplies and not know where to get them,” Pat Hoffmann said.

“I can’t imagine being in the field right now and not having the supplies you need to take care of the patients so this is one small thing we can do,” Amy Hoffman said.

Since switching production to hand sanitizer, Lonely Oak has made 2,200 gallons of hand sanitizer, or more than 35,000 eight milliliter bottles.

“We’re getting calls from hospitals, nursing homes, doctors offices, trucking companies,” Hoffman said. “You name it I’ve gotten calls for providing hand sanitizer.”

However making the product to FDA standards requires a lot of alcohol. Hand sanitizer is made using 160 proof alcohol and one gallon of the product has the same alcohol content as 12 bottles of vodka.

Lonely Oak so far has received 24 barrels of alcohol but they’re close to running out of that supply. The distillery found out Wednesday they’re receiving another four barrels of alcohol which is enough for 300 gallons of hand sanitizer or 4,300 eight-ounce bottles. However, the alcohol distributors are also running out of alcohol so at some point there might not be any available for Lonely Oak to purchase.

“It’s not like the suppliers have alcohol and they’re not selling it, they’re running out of it too,” Hoffmann said. “The more alcohol we can get the more hand sanitizer we can produce quicker.”

When the supplies do run out Lonely Oak plans to start distilling rye whiskey to make hand sanitizer. However this process is more tedious and time-consuming.

“When we buy it we can do 300 gallons a day but when we distill it we’ll do 30 gallons,” Hoffmann said.

Another issue for places such as Lonely Oak is how to package the hand sanitizer. Small eight milliliter bottles are tough to find so Hofmann started packaging the sanitizer in one gallon jugs.

“That’s why we went to the one gallon jugs. It’s all we could get,” Hoffmann said. “If we can’t put it in a package then it’s no good.”

Hoffmann said his facility wouldn’t have been able to do as much production over the last two weeks without his family’s help. He plans on producing hand sanitizer for the near future.

“As long as we can get the alcohol, as long as we can produce alcohol and as long as there is a need for a hand sanitizer, we will continue making it,” Hoffmann said.

Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above show video.

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