Across the globe, we see a trend of repurposing production facilities from the manufacturing of alcohol to alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The closure of bars, coupled with the increase in demand for hand sanitizer disinfectant gel, has caused businesses to rethink their normal priorities and adapt to meet the demand.

Covid-19 represents a very new challenge to society and new challenges need novel solutions to combat them. It has caused governments and businesses across the world to look at the resources at hand and to readapt them for what is needed.

What has subsequently followed is a rise in businesses that have the facilities and the resources to utilize them for a new purpose. We have seen a number of distilleries shift their focus from manufacturing alcohol, to use this vital resource to manufacture alcohol-based antibacterial hand sanitizer.

Why is this shift necessary?

According to Drinks Ireland, the Irish alcohol industry accounts for 1 billion in exports, supports over 92,000 jobs, and contributes over 2 billion to the economy. Naturally, with the closure of on-site pubs, sales have been declining and so it was an important shift to make.

The focus of the distilleries’ manufacturing has been geared towards supplying the hospitals and those on the frontline who need it the most, as well as selling direct to the customer, at a good price. It offers small and large scale distilleries some hope amidst uncertain times.

It allows them to maintain some output and keep some revenue flowing following the loss of their regular orders. It also means their staff has some job security.

Not only does it keep business afloat, it also offers a chance to help fight the uncertainty that prevails in society at present. It allows distillers worldwide to feel they can contribute to making a difference, to offer the frontline workers some help.

Overall, it adds to the greater good and recovery of the country, both in the economy and the health of its citizens. Helping with the wider social battle also allows companies to up their reputation in the long run.

How Hard Is It For a Distillery To Shift Gears?

For distillers with the production facilities already available, as well as the correct hygiene standards, quality control, trained staff, and the right resources, it makes perfect sense to readapt.

Of course, there are legal and regulatory requirements and safety standards to meet. The product needs to meet safety standards for consumer use, as set out by the government and it must be licensed by the local relevant authority.

In Ireland, a hand sanitizer gel is seen as a biocidal product (or biocide), an antimicrobial that is used to prevent, destroy, or control various types of harmful or unwanted organisms. To make sure the use of biocidal products does not have unacceptable risks for people, animals, and the environment, they are regulated to control their marketing, sale, and use.

In Ireland, biocides are controlled by Regulation (EU) No. 528/2012. The antibacterial disinfectant gel may only be distributed and used if they have been authorized or notified by the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DAFM).

The alcohol itself needs to be denatured. That is, ensuring that alcohol is unfit for human consumption. In order for sanitizers to work, they require at least 60% alcohol concentration, far above the 40% spirits standard. This has in turn caused many experts to speak out against making hand sanitizers at home.

Are Homemade Hand Sanitisers safe?

The idea is very appealing to the everyday person who can’t get their hands on a bottle of hand sanitizer and have some alcohol lying around. This, however, is not recommended. The standard spirit that we see for human consumption on shop shelves contains 40% alcohol on average.

This is not enough alcohol content to produce a sanitizer fit for fighting bacteria or viruses. It’s also very easy to make a mistake at home when you do not have the right conditions or any quality control available. One wrong ingredient or a slip up that leads to contamination will render it unfit for use.

The rise of social media DIY recipes and videos, coupled with a lot of free time on peoples’ hands, encourages people to try things they normally wouldn’t. However, on this occasion, it is probably not worth the risk. Ultimately one can not compete with sterile production facilities and should leave it to the experts, to ensure the safety and efficacy of the final product.

Some Examples of Irish Distillers Who Have Adapted Their Facilities Across the Country to Make Hand Sanitiser

  • Diageo, the maker of the world-famous Guinness, as well as Smirnoff vodka and Johnie Walker whiskey, have committed to supplying two million liters of alcohol to make antibacterial hand sanitizer to boost stocks depleted by the global outbreak.
  • Irish Distillers, the makers of Jameson whiskey, in Midleton Cork, has confirmed that 120,000, 250ml bottles will be delivered to the HSE (Health Service Executive) readily available for healthcare authorities to use on the frontline.
  • The Shed Distillery in Leitrim, who makes Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin and whiskey has announced it will shortly commence the distribution of emergency alcohol and surface cleaner across the region. It will supply alcohol to Ovelle Pharmaceuticals, which will create the hand sanitizer gels and they are in talks with a larger retail store to distribute directly to consumers.
  • Wicklow Way Wines, a winery based in Co. Wicklow has used its resources to manufacture a 70% alcohol-based hand sanitizer and sell directly to the consumer. It contains three simple ingredients, alcohol, glycerin, and water from the local Wicklow mountains. It is being sold on 123ink.ie, a local Irish business, so customers can prepare for when the lockdown is lifted and continue to minimize their risk of contagion. It is an affordable alternative to what many are charging.
  • Donegal’s Sliabh Liag Distillery has also temporarily scaled back production of its spirits to make hand sanitizer and has pledged to donate the first 1,000 liters of produce to Donegal’s essential services. Their sanitizer contains 70% alcohol, enriched with local seaweeds to make it kinder to the skin.
  • Galway’s​ Micil Distillery​ has paused production of its range of traditional poitíns and an award-winning Connemara gin and started making hand sanitizer to help combat the spread of coronavirus in Ireland.

This shift displays an increased sense of community across the population, of businesses coming together to do what they can.

With these uncertain times, comes a chance to rethink, readapt, and give back.