A bottle at a time: Boot Hill Distillery offering ‘hand cleaner’ to combat coronavirus

Around the nation, micro distilleries are putting their production process to greater use for the public and turning it into hand “cleaner.” Boot Hill Distillery, in Dodge City, Kansas, is one such distillery that is looking to temporarily switch its production focus to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Hayes Kelman, founder, CEO and distiller, explained that distilleries like theirs are first calling this “hand cleaner” and not “hand sanitizer” because there has been no official Food and Drug Administration testing and no lab results for labeling. However, the World Health Organization recommends a formula to create hand sanitizer, and the alcohol that Boot Hill Distillery and other craft distilleries use is more than adequate to meet the requirements.

“It’s our super high proof denatured ethanol,” Kelman explained. That base, if it were to go through the rest of the beverage distillation process, would turn into Boot Hill’s renowned spirits.

“You can’t drink it. But it’s the spirit base, and then we add hydrogen peroxide and glycerol and that’s the recommended formula we can produce.” Distilleries had to get exemptions from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau that would waive internal revenue law. 

“Distilleries are allowed to make beverages, fuel, or non-beverage products,” Kelman said. On March 18, the TTB issued guidance for alcohol fuel plants and beverage distilled spirits plants to “manufacture hand sanitizer or supply ethanol for use in the manufacture of hand sanitizer to other TTB permittees who are authorized to receive such spirits.”

That waiver allows for ethanol plants and craft distilleries to put their plants to use in helping protect the public during this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

“We have plenty of ethanol, plenty of hydrogen peroxide and glycerine,” Kelman said. It was just the bottles that have been tough to source. “As you can imagine, everyone is putting their production to use for this cause, so it’s been really tough to find 3 to 6 oz. bottles.” Fortunately, they’ve sourced some and hope to start bottling March 20.

Local partners and statewide entities have stepped up to help Boot Hill on this project, in order to make this hand cleaner available for free to those who need it.

“Victory Electric (the local electric cooperative) called us at 8 a.m. yesterday,” Kelman said. “Conant Construction in Dodge City, the Ford County Development Corporation helped us source bottles to use. Kansas Corn, Western Plains Medical Complex and Conestoga Energy, which can donate its ethanol to the project to help us keep up with production. And others in the community.

“It’s been really neat to see how the whole community has stepped up to make this happen,” he added.

Boot Hill, like many small businesses, is facing hard decisions in this pandemic. On March 17 they made the decision to shut down their Tasting Room to customers and have switched to curbside bottle sales to help keep the doors open. 

“We pulled our Tasting Room staff to the back of the house and they’re making hand cleaner,” he said. “We plan to continue to pay them and keep them employed as long as we possibly can. We’re still offering bottles and cocktail mixers to our customers.” Kansas relaxed its laws this last week regarding curbside sales of alcohol as a way to help small businesses and restaurants during the pandemic keep their doors open and keep to social distancing guidelines.

“We’ve just had to change our mindset from a business to how we can help,” Kelman said. “If we can help and we don’t, what are we really doing here? What’s the purpose? If we have this and the public needs it, then let’s do that.” 

Kelman said those who would like to support this project of providing free hand cleaner to those folks who need it should call the distillery line at 620-371-6309, or email [email protected]. They can also follow Boot Hill Distillery on Facebook for updates.

“And, if you know of special high risk facilities that need this product, please contact us and we’ll try to prioritize them first,” he added. 

Someday, the infection curve will be flattened and people will be able to return to the Tasting Room, but until that day happens, Boot Hill Distillery and others like them are putting their resources to use in fighting the pandemic. One bottle at a time.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].

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