Distillers and brewers throughout Wyoming, including Backwards Distilling Company in Natrona County, are making hand sanitizer to help remedy the shortage caused by customers trying to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The initiative got the state’s backing Tuesday, but it began as a local one. Backwards co-founder Amber Pollock had been approached by a few local entities about the possibility of making hand sanitizer, which needs to be at least 60 percent alcohol to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standards. Given that she and her family own a distillery, she’s in a unique position to help provide a product that medical professionals and grocery stores alike haven’t been able to keep stocked.
She began asking around to get ideas on how the process would work, what she’d need, how she’d pay for it. She mentioned the idea to a friend on the Wyoming Business Council, as well as a few others.
“That message got to the governor’s office pretty quickly, and I got a call from them the next day,” said Pollock, whose distillery is based in Mills.
Before the state got involved, Pollock had already been looking around for the materials she would need to mass produce the sanitizer. The main ingredient is ethanol, which is the part Backwards is precisely poised to handle. The rest of the ingredients have been hard to find, Pollock said. She needs glycerol, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Not exactly products she has in bulk quantities.
Plus, she isn’t the only one trying to buy these ingredients.
“It’s been more of a supply chain thing,” she said. “Sourcing the supplies is a challenge.”
Pollock said she’s seeing the same thing with distillers out of state, as well. She sits on the board of the American Craft Spirits Association and has been hearing similar things from other members.
“This is an issue that’s coming up for our members all across the country,” she said.
And that’s where the state came in. The Wyoming Business Council and the governor’s office have teamed up with small distilleries across the state to facilitate a program that will employ at least eight different distilleries and breweries in the manufacturing of hand sanitizer. The Wyoming Business Council will allocate money to pay for the raw materials needed to make the sanitizer, as directed by Gov. Mark Gordon.
“This collaborative effort represents the Wyoming spirit we all know and love,” Gordon said in a statement Tuesday. “Folks banding together in challenging economic times to support public health and advance the greater good. We also recognize that other industries are stepping up and that this situation is temporary.”
“It is exciting to see the private and public sectors come together,” Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell also said in the release. “The WBC is here to help facilitate the collaboration of businesses and state agencies to cut red tape and act quickly and decisively.”
The partnership will allow distillers to focus on making the product while the business council handles the supplied. Pollock said the private-public partnership that’s been put on course in a matter of days has been encouraging, and in a time when most people have been relegated to the sidelines to social distance, she’s glad to have a novel way to help.
“I’m really excited to see this be a coordinated effort,” she said. “It feels really good to be contributing; it’s a nice position to be in.”
The money to pay for the supplies the distillers need will come from the “Imminent Threat Grants” funds available through the “Community Development Block Grant Program.”
In addition to Backwards, which closed its downtown Casper tasting room because of coronavirus concerns before the state mandated it, Koltiska Distillery in Sheridan, Chronicles Distilling in Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs Distilling, Melvin Brewing in Alpine, Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby, Jackson Hole Still Works and Grand Teton Distillery in Jackson will join in the effort.
The details of how the hand sanitizer will be distributed are still being worked out.