One of the very first things to fly off the shelves as people began to worry about the coronavirus was hand sanitizer. As the weeks go by, stories of stockpiling and price gouging have emerged -- but so have stories of innovation and ingenuity.
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Some of Connecticut’s small craft distilleries have provided one of those tales, ending production of spirits like gin and vodka and turning instead to making 140 proof alcohol hand sanitizer.
Fifth State Distillery in Bridgeport is one such facility.
“It’s been a little crazy, but I’m glad that we can be here to help,” said owner Bridget Schulten. She and her husband, distiller Rob Schulten, began this business four years ago. They now have five employees.
“It’s been a passion project for us, it’s been really fun, and then all of a sudden it all changes,” she said.
When Gov. Ned Lamont ordered restaurants to move to takeout service only, Schulten feared for the future of her business.
“I frankly thought -- my first thought -- when they were closing down restaurants, is ‘oh no, the restaurants aren’t buying, the stores aren’t buying, then we won’t be selling,’” she said.
Now, instead of bars and restaurants, she’s selling to hospitals, nursing homes, towns, utility companies and even U.S. Post Office outlets across five states -- anyplace where people have had to remain at work, with employers who need to keep their employees safe.
“Everybody is so grateful and thankful that they can get product,” Schulten said. “I’m just glad that we can be there to help.”
Changing their business model has not been without complications. They’re following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the formulation of the most effective product. Within a week and a half, the advice on minimum alcohol level changed from 60 proof, first to 80 proof, and now to 140 proof.
“We’ve had to change pretty much everything,” Rob Schulten said. “It’s for a good cause.”
And he said they haven’t stopped selling their original range. “We still have our product out there for sale, so a lot of our long-term customers have come and bought a hand sanitizer and a spirit -- so they take care of their insides and their outsides!”
Fifth State now sells a 750 ml bottle of hand sanitizer -- that’s the size of a standard bottle of wine -- for $35. They’ve been focusing on distribution by the case to larger customers, but they also offer single bottles for curbside pickup.
“People have driven up to buy a bottle curbside, and they say, ‘We didn’t even know you were here,’” Bridget Schulten said. “And I tell them, ‘Please remember us and come back and buy some gin and vodka when we’re all well again!’”