PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Two local distilleries that shifted their production from liquor to hand sanitizer due to the coronavirus pandemic said they’re happy to provide the germ-killing gel for Rhode Islanders who are struggling to find it.
Grey Sail Brewing owner Jennifer Brinton tells Eyewitness News the company had just received the green light from the state to open a brand new distillery that would produce bourbon and other spirits when the pandemic shut down the entire state.
She said interestingly enough, their first product at the new distillery wasn’t a bottle of liquor – it was hand sanitizer.
“This was our very first product out of the distillery,” Brinton said holding a bottle of their hand sanitizer. “Certainly not what the business plan called for.”
Brinton said when the federal government began allowing distilleries across the country to make sanitizer, her team was all for it.
“It filled the need at the time – for first responders, food pantry workers, everybody who was really working front line as well as local residents who just couldn’t find hand sanitizer on the shelves,” she said.
Brinton said the production was completely funded by donations, and any profits made went right back into making more.
“We didn’t look at it as a for-profit thing, we looked at it as a community service project,” she said. “We produced it for that purpose to donate to those in need.”
Brinton said the production of the sanitizer didn’t affect business, but COVID-19 definitely did.
“When the restaurants and bars closed down, we lost that part of the market – so we did have the liquor store sales,” she said. “There was an uptick in the liquor store sales – but it didn’t compensate for the loss we had through draft beer in our restaurants and bars.”
Over in South Kingstown, Sons of Liberty was also hard at work making hand sanitizer. Director of Marketing Bryan Ricard said the distillery received many generous donations, which allowed them to make and distribute 1,200 gallons of hand sanitizer for free.
“The first couple months we had police cruisers, ambulances, fire stations – everyone from every county coming down – and picking up gallons of sanitizer,” he said. “But then being able to sell it also allowed us to keep that donation operation business running.”
Ricard said the production of hand sanitizer was an easy transition for them, and didn’t affect their business at all.
“If COVID had started now while we’re producing a lot of loyals, we might of had some issues, but we were pretty flexible and transition pretty easy,” he said.
Ricard said they’re still making hand sanitizer, but the production of it has slowed.
“Instead of five days a week, it’s maybe one or two days a week,” he said. “The environment is unknown, so we’ll do it for as long as we can, as long as people need it.”
Brinton said the rest of the hand sanitizer Grey Sail made will be given to local businesses and retailers.
“Our final phase of that project was to allot hand sanitizer for businesses, restaurants, retailers everybody who’s in the process of re-opening,” she said.