Brattleboro distillery debuts Snowdrop Gin sanitizer

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Note:  This story was updated on  Tuesday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m.

BRATTLEBORO — The Saxtons River Distillery has joined other Vermont craft distilleries in doing what they can to solve the widespread shortage of hand sanitizer during the coronavirus crisis.

The Brattleboro-based distillery is now making super high-proof gin, which is double the alcohol content of its usual award-winning Snowdrop Gin. The 170-proof gin (85 percent alcohol) can be used with hydrogen peroxide and glycerin to make hand sanitizer. You can also add essential oils for a nice scent, said Alicia Porter of Saxtons River Distillery.

"We are making a high quality alcohol to be used for making sanitizing products," Porter said. She said the company is working with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H., and was talking to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, as well as the Vermont Food Bank, to meet their hand sanitizer needs in the pandemic caused by the coronavirus.

Since the coronavirus erupted in China in January and made the jump to the United States several weeks later, people have been hoarding hand sanitizer, among other products. Since then, the virus has infected more than 15,000 people in the U.S. and killed more than 200, leading to a massive shut down of American life and business to try and contain the virus.

"Our bar is closed, but we're still open," Porter said.

Gov. Phil Scott earlier this week ordered all bars and restaurants closed by 2 p.m. Tuesday, with the idea that the close contact in such social places would foster the virus being easily transmitted from person to person.

Porter said Saxtons River, which also uses the name Saxtons Distillery, wanted to keep all its staff employed and started last week producing the extra high-test alcohol that is the base for the hand sanitizer.

She said they are selling it in large Snowdrop Gin bottles containing 750 ml, with the price at $21 a bottle.

She said the price is as low as the distillery can make it.  She estimated the Saxtons River bottle could produce many bottles of sanitizer, or could be used directly in a spray for sanitizing, or on a cloth to wipe down objects.

Christian Stromberg, the owner of Saxtons River Distillery, recommended the following formula using the Snowdrop Gin super-proof alcohol, which he said came from the World Health Organization:

To make 1 1/3 cups of hand sanitizer, mix up the following in a 2 cup glass measure:

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1 cup plus 5 teaspoons Snowdrop Gin super-proof alcohol

1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide

And 1 teaspoon glycerin. Glycerin is a moisturizer. Look for it in the cosmetics department at drug stores, supermarkets, and health food stores.

Add enough water to bring the total liquid to 1 1/3 cups. Mix thoroughly.

"One of the 750 ml bottles can make five gallons of sanitizer," Porter said.

Most of the first batch of the super-proof gin has already been sold, she said, and the distillery will make more next week. She said once the panic buying started, the company posted the idea on its social media pages and was greeted with interest and support. She said Saxtons River and other distilleries got waivers from state regulators to make the high-proof alcohol for the sanitizer.

"We bottled it on Monday," she said.

Saxtons River Distillery is still in production of its regular alcohol, including the regular Snowdrop Gin, Sapling Maple Liquer, Sapling Maple Bourbon, and Sapling Maple Rye, as well as Perc Coffee Liquer, and the business at 155 Chickering Drive is open, seven days a week. Saxtons River Distillery has closed its small store and tasting room on Route 30 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Porter said the super high-test gin could be imbibed, but she wouldn't recommend it at all. At best, she said, it should be diluted a great deal. It has no scent, she said.

Other distilleries around the state, including Mad River Distilleries and Caledonia Spirits are also making the hand sanitizer, and Caledonia, which is based in Montpelier, is getting reimbursed by the Vermont Food Bank for its costs, while Mad River is also getting reimbursed by the state for its costs.

The basis for the sanitizer, she said, is a high-test ethanol, which then goes through the distillery's still.

She said the high-proof gin was in the Snowdrop Gin bottle, but with extra labels warning that it is highly flammable, and it also comes with a white, rather than a black, top.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.


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