Exactly 100 years since Prohibition began, some distilleries have voluntarily halted producing alcohol for consumption.  Instead of conducting business as usual, these boutique-style distilleries have started to produce hand sanitizer.  Micro-distilleries have found a business model that both allows them to stay afloat and that also fulfills an urgent social need.  By repurposing their facilities to produce hand sanitizer, they can replenish the critical supplies that have been scarce for weeks now, because of the coronavirus.  It’s an interesting change in strategy in a time when many small businesses are grappling to find ways to stay open and stay relevant.

“This is not the business that we ever wanted to be in, but it’s the business we need to be in right now not only for the safety of our community, but for the job security of our staff.”

-J. Rieger & Company

To accomplish this endeavor, J. Rieger & Company acquired 8,000 gallons of ethanol and used their facilities to produce over 10,500 gallons of hand sanitizer.  This company alternates between making sanitizer and distilling whiskey during the week. J. Rieger & Co. hopes to still be in business five years from now when those batches of whiskey will be properly aged and ready to drink.  “This is not the business that we ever wanted to be in, but it’s the business we need to be in right now not only for the safety of our community, but for the job security of our staff,” the company said on Facebook.  Their hand sanitizer is both available for purchase and is being donated to communities that are in the greatest need.

New York Distilling Co. is taking a different approach by using their undiluted Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin to make hand sanitizer. They use two parts of uncut gin to one part of aloe vera gel, and they are making a hand sanitizer that complies with CDC recommendations while using their inhouse supply of alcohol. Using gin as a base, their hand sanitizer is scented with juniper berries, spices, and citrus peels. This distillery is solely donating their product at this time to fulfill the critical shortages in the area. They echoed a similar sentiment saying, “We can use our resources to help support friends in the hospitality and trade industry who are in need right now.”

“We can use our resources to help support friends in the hospitality and trade industry who are in need right now.”

-New York Distilling Company

A few weeks ago, it would have seemed counterintuitive for distilleries to voluntarily halt alcohol production, a century after Prohibition. While their business models have changed, they are both still in business and keeping their employees employed. That’s a feat that few small businesses can accomplish right now when the future is uncertain for many. The majority of successful businesses have employees working from home at this time. Companies that had sufficient IT infrastructure were able to resume daily business operations remotely with a minimal loss of production. Companies that could expedite this sudden digital transformation are much further ahead than their counterparts. Businesses that physically produce their products are forced to be more innovative these days. We must wonder what other ways these small businesses will have to change to stay afloat in the wake of coronavirus.