Sure, you could view it as further evidence of the End of Days, but you could also see it as an uplifting example of human ingenuity in the worst of times: In response to COVID-19, Norseman Distillery has switched production from craft spirits to hand sanitizer.
“Jacob Frey shut us down on Tuesday,” says owner Scott Erwin, referring to the Minneapolis mayor’s citywide order. “We essentially had to lay everybody off, but a few of us thought we’d get into hand sanitizer. Basically we have everything here: Bottling equipment, alcohol. We started calling around to see if people needed it—hundreds of people did, and we’ve been filling bottles ever since.”
According to a local healthcare worker who declined to be identified, the hand sanitizer shortage at the hospital she works at is dire—to the point where it’s being kept under lock and key.
“We’re so critically low. They’ve taken out hand sanitizers at all non-patient care areas,” she says. “There’s no hand sanitizer by the elevator, in the hallway, by the cafeteria. It’s a little frustrating that that’s appropriate, because people are stealing it.”
While there still is hand sanitizer available by patient rooms, “It doesn’t matter where you are in a hospital, you need to be able to sanitize your hands.”
Accordingly, Norseman is focusing on getting hand sanitizer to those healthcare workers and facilities and others at the front line of the pandemic, including first responders, nursing facilities, and homeless shelters. Erwin explains that they want to focus their efforts on providing hand sanitizer to people who can “do the most good.”
Were there any challenges in switching production from Norseman’s regular lineup of spirits and liqueurs to a health product?
“Not really,” says Erwin. “We had the ingredients already—we make alcohol every single day. We’re using the WHO recipe, adding hydrogen peroxide and glycerin, and we had those on the shelf.”
What about the regulatory side of things? According to Erwin, the state regulates the production of hand sanitizer to a limited extent (there’s an extra permit) and at the federal level, restrictions were lifted “as of yesterday afternoon.”
“We just saw a huge good we could do,” he says. “We can figure out the paperwork later.”
“We’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback,” he continues. “Our last post [about hand sanitizer] on social media was our best performing post in seven years. We’ve taken nine calls [requesting hand sanitizer] in two hours so far this morning, and we dropped off 20 cases yesterday.”
If you’d like to support Norseman’s efforts, there’s a GoFundMe to cover the cost of packaging materials. Alternatively, you can purchase Norseman’s staycation cocktail kit, which includes a 375-milliliter bottle of spirits and four canned mixers; all of the profits will go towards making hand sanitizer. Kits can be picked up at the distillery from 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays (pre-purchase to maintain best social distancing practices).
On that note, Erwin points out that the most important thing we can do is stay at home.
“There are a lot of people out there trying hard to do what they can. People at Norseman could’ve self quarantined, but they’ve put themselves in harm’s way to do good.”