Whiskey Distillery Pivots to Provide Hand Sanitizer During COVID Crisis

Updated: Mar 22

Ice-filled whiskey glasses adorned with a citrus twist, the scents of oak and coffee wafting across the bar, and aged wooden barrels serving as two-person tables⁠—this was the type of immersive experience a guest at Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock, Arkansas could enjoy just a few weeks ago.

Little Rock's, Rock Town Distillery Covid-19 Pivot

Before the pandemic hit, Rock Town Distillery was a lively whiskey, bourbon, and vodka distillery normally known for its swank facility tours and creative cocktails, like the Blood Orange Rye Old Fashioned and the Chocolate Malt Manhattan. They often see a high demand for their Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, which won the 2015 US Micro Whisky of the Year, according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.

Recently, Rock Town’s owner, Phil Brandon, saw an enormous spike in demand for a product they had never considered manufacturing pre-COVID: hand sanitizer. Congressman French Hill reached out to Brandon inquiring if the facility could shift their production to accommodate this new demand, and the Rock Town team sprung into action.

Hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol to be effective in repelling germs; the Rock Town version is 70% alcohol and uses repurposed vodka. Their facilities created over seven tons of hand sanitizer within the first week of Arkansas’s social distancing orders that have since been distributed to hospitals, health care workers, and other essential workers around the state.

Rock Town got the word out about their sanitizer production primarily via social media channels. Word spread spread across the nation, all the way to the White House. President Trump caught wind of Rock Town’s efforts and sent Brandon a letter that read, “America is strengthened by businesses like yours that remain committed to assisting their communities and our Nation in times of need. Your unyielding dedication to keeping our country healthy and safe as we face these hardships is a testament to the resilience of the American spirit.”

Brandon is pleased with the distillery’s efforts, both because of his desire to stop the spread of Coronavirus in his community as well as his desire to keep his staff employed. “I’ve got people normally would’ve been laid off that are getting to work and getting paid because I’m able to shift my business to make hand sanitizer,” Arkansas Money & Politics reported.

In addition, they offered free hand sanitizer to the public for individuals and families who needed 200 milliliters or less and couldn’t find it at local stores. Many Arkansans lined up outside the distillery, patiently waiting six feet apart, to fill up bottles they brought from home - and then stocked up on bottles for their home liquor cabinets during these trying times.

Rock Town prides itself on being the first legal distillery to grace Arkansas since Prohibition. Now, they are proud to be one of the spirit distilleries to mass-produce hand sanitizer in a united fight toward ending a global pandemic.

Manager Macie Fellows explained to Arkansas Online, “We’re trying to do what we can to help out.”

Rock Town is making the most of the COVID situation by mitigating potential revenue loss and also giving back to the local community. When any small business is able to reallocate their resources, facilities or otherwise, to support COVID prevention and treatment efforts, it’s a win-win.

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