Whiskey Wherewithal: Old Elk Begins Processing Hand Sanitizer

Fort Collins-based Craft Whiskey Distiller Old Elk has produced more than 400 gallons of hand sanitizer, with 2,700 more on the way.

“The alcohol used in hand sanitizer must be at least 94.9% or 189.8 proof. You can use any grainbase to produce the alcohol, but the type of still is very important while getting to such a high proof,” said Luis Gonzalez, CEO of Old Elk Distillery.

“Our current column still is great because we have the ability to run it through two columns, with a total of roughly 28 plates. Each plate basically creates its own distillation, so we are able to get to a high proof easier than if we just had a pot still. We run things through the column still twice to get to the high proof. We also produce our Dry Town Gin on the column still utilizing Neutral Grain Spirit which is 190-192 proof. Rather than adding botanicals to the alcohol, we are using it for hand sanitizer,” said Luis.

From scratch, the process takes about six days. The alcohol must be fermented first – which is about four days. Then they run it through the still twice to bring it up to 190 proof. From there, they have the ethanol to make the sanitizer. It is denatured with isopropyl alcohol. Hydrogen peroxide and glycerin are added. A proof is taken to determine how much water needs to be added to get it down to 80 percent ABV. If the ethanol is ready then it takes about an hour to assemble bottles.

Spray bottles are the easiest way to give it out, but finding spray bottles has been difficult. The product is very thin. In the meantime, they have been distributing the product in 2-3 gallon buckets all the way up to 55 gallons drums, which they have sent to some police departments. This allows for more distribution for the local responders and their teams to divide up the liquid based on their internal priorities.

Old Elk uses glycerin to reduce the amount of moisture loss, but the FDA restricts them from adding anything to increase its viscosity due to the risk of reducing effectiveness.

Right now, rather than looking to sell the sanitizer Old Elk is doing their part by donating it to the first responders and hospital personnel through programs like Shield 616.

“Aside from it simply being the right thing to do, Old Elk Distillery prides itself on innovation and its community. At a time like this, it was a no brainer to start producing hand sanitizer,” said Luis. “If you’ve spent time with any of our employees, then you know our company cares deeply about others and is always seeking ways to help.”

Making the hand sanitizer is not about profit. Old Elk just wants to help the community.

“The best way for people to help is to continue to lift each other up during this difficult time. While we would love to be able to have the community involved in this process, it is much safer for everyone to continue to stay at home and socially distance,” said Luis.

For those looking for ways to continue their cocktail sessions at home with Old Elk products, the Old Town tasting room, The Reserve, has to-go cocktail kits available with a purchase of Old Elk, Dry Town Gin, PB&W or Nooku Bourbon Cream. They also now have pre-batched cocktails that include the spirit. Delivery is available delivery Thursday-Saturday. For more information: https://www.oldelk.com/the-reserve-home

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