Weekend Sip: An award-winning California distiller goes from booze to hand sanitizer

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Margaret Pattillo Photography

‘I feel that we have a social responsibility to do something because we are in a unique position to help,’ says distillery founder and owner Dave Phinney.

The bottle: Savage & Cooke sanitizer

The back story: Savage & Cooke is an award-winning California craft distillery, known for its quality spirits and its cutting-edge approach to packaging. But these days, it has put the business of booze aside and focused instead on something more valuable to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Namely, hand sanitizer.

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Like a number of other distilleries across the U.S., Savage & Cooke recognized the critical need for the product and knew it was well-positioned to make it. The key ingredient in sanitizer, after all, is alcohol, albeit not the kind intended for drinking.

“I feel that we have a social responsibility to do something because we are in a unique position to help,” says distillery founder and owner Dave Phinney.

The main production challenge, Phinney adds, has been the procurement of the ingredients needed to make the sanitizer. He has been following a “recipe,” suggested by the World Health Organization, that calls for combining the alcohol with glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and purified water. From there, it’s just “a matter of precise blending and bottling,” Phinney says.

Phinney is not selling the sanitizer nationally on a commercial scale as of yet. Instead, he is donating or selling the product at cost to a variety of nonprofit organizations, municipalities and private companies, with a focus on helping those in need in the area surrounding Mare Island, the California locale (and former U.S. Navy base) where the distillery is situated.

So far, Savage & Cooke has produced 3,000 gallons of the sanitizer, but Phinney is ramping up his efforts and anticipates making 12,000 gallons weekly. To assist with production, he is also looking to hire bartenders and restaurant staff in the area who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

What we think about it: Normally, we use this space in the column to describe the taste of a given whiskey, wine or beer. Obviously, that doesn’t apply here. We will say, however, that the sanitizer is notably different than most commercial varieties (think Purell) in that it is thinner — most likely, because it is not made with aloe vera gel. In some ways, we prefer the distillery product for that very reason — in a word, it’s less “gunky.” Phinney does note that the glycerin in the recipe provides a degree of moisturizing, so the sanitizer is not unduly harsh.

In either case, Phinney’s efforts — and those of other sanitizer-producing distilleries — speak to what American businesses can do during a time of crisis. We hope these distilleries can return to producing quality whiskey soon, but in the meanwhile, we applaud their commitment to their communities.

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