CAMDEN – Maine Health uses 40 gallons of hand sanitizer per day. As is everything in these times it is in short supply. Blue Barren Distillery, in Camden, will switch from distilled spirits to lend a hand to a local and statewide effort to produce the much-needed commodity.
Andrew Stewart and Jeremy Howard are cofounders and distillers at Blue Barren. And as Andrew put it, “we became aware of a need.”
“My brother-in-law works at the hospital and my sister-in-law is a nurse in the ER,” he said. “As soon as we found out things were getting crazy, my partner and I started asking questions and we were eager to do anything we could do to help.”
Stewart said they are in a unique position with the equipment they have to do something helpful.
What is involved with switching over from distilled spirits to making hand sanitizer?
Stewart said there are three basic ingredients to make hand sanitizer.
“The majority of hand sanitizer is pure ethanol,” he said. “Glycerin is next though sometimes you can use Aloe and then hydrogen peroxide. With all the shortages there is definitely a lack of alcohol to make hand sanitizer.”
Blue Barren Distillery, established last year on the edge of Camden Harbor, is joining other breweries and distillers around the state in the collaborative effort.
“I want to stress here that we are just a tiny cog in a massive switchover that’s happened around the state,” he said. “Breweries and distillers everywhere have stepped up to do this.”
Stewart said they can’t begin making the alcohol for the sanitizer until next week.
“The reason it’s taking so long is because of the rules the federal government has it’s taken this long for things to click into place in terms of what is legal for us to make.”
Stewart said Thresher’s Brewery, in Searsmont will, deliver them a batch of beer they made and Blue Barren will distill that into ethanol.
“Once we have a decent volume of that we will deliver it down to Split Rock Distillers in Newcastle,” he said. “They will further distill it because their still can take it up to the 95-percent alcohol level that it needs to be at, which is one of the regulations for hand sanitizer.”
Stewart said their still can start the process, but not up to that level.
“From Split Rock, it will be transported down to Portland where it will be mixed,” he said. “There are places around the state, other distilleries, we are feeding into and from there it goes directly to Maine Health who will distribute it to the facilities that need it and the University of Maine in Orono is involved.”
The hand sanitizer will not be sold to the public. It is for hospital use only.
“We don’t feel that giving it to the public or selling it to the public is really the best use of it,” said Stewart. “It’s in such short availability and people are staying home and washing their hands we don’t really feel there’s a need for the public to have it since home protocols are sufficient for public safety.”
Stewart said it’s needed more where people are exposed to a higher likelihood of the virus, like hospitals.
“I would just like to add,” he said, “that if any other breweries in the state have excess beer they would like to donate to distilleries around the state we are looking. The recognition is nice, but we are just a small cog in a big effort around the state. Every distiller and brewery is stepping up to help.”