Featured pics prior to March 2020 shared with Snowed-In on Instagram! follow us @evlsnowedin and tag photos #evlsnowedin

Share |

Drinks to Disinfectant

Known for its potent potables, the Ellicottville Distillery has established itself as a western New York staple. When the pandemic hit, it quickly changed gears — creating much-needed hand sanitizer for the county and beyond

When rumblings of the coronavirus pandemic emerged in mid- to late-February, panic buying began. Seemingly overnight, everyday products — hand sanitizer and toilet paper to name a few — vanished from store shelves nationwide. Production and distribution couldn’t keep up with the endless demand as the virus began sweeping across the United States.

A few months ago, you could buy hand sanitizer anywhere. Currently? Good luck. Fortunately, those in a position to make a difference have done so.

With minor tweaks to its process, the Ellicottville Distillery just produced its first batch of hand sanitizer to help the community it calls home.

“We were being asked by a lot of people to make it, so we decided to go for it,” said Bryan Scharf, the Distillery’s owner. “It seems like this thing (the pandemic) is going to go on for a little while longer than maybe what we’re expecting, and we’re in a position where we can help.”

Much like families planting Victory Gardens during World War II — or more recently, automobile manufacturers converting factories to make ventilators instead of trucks — Americans have an innate ability to rapidly adapt when presented with a crisis. From 3D-printed face shields and hand sewn masks to programs like Goggles for Docs, we are seeing the very best of people helping people.

“We’re lucky to be a part of this community,” Scharf said. “And we’re willing to help and give back in any way we can. It just so happens that we have an opportunity to help significantly.”

According to Adobe Analytics, which tracks many of the country’s top retailers, sales of virus protection (masks, gloves, sanitizers) erupted over 800% in the early part of 2020. While online retailers and distributors self-policed price gouging, inventory simply vanished. Once word spread of what the Distillery had planned, Scharf received a phone call from Cattaraugus County.

“The County called and asked me for most of our first run,” he said. “We ended up donating close to 100 gallons. They’re going to use it for the hospitals, nursing homes, police stations and any other place where it’s needed.”

The process of making hand sanitizer isn’t awfully different from making the alcohol that’s eventually put into bottles for sale and consumption.

“Basically, we’re making high-test alcohol,” he said. “This is not potable by any means. It takes 4-5 days to ferment, a day to distill and then we add the other parts to it, like glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. From start to finish, it takes around two weeks to get a batch done.”

Glycerin, which adds viscosity, acts as a lubricant and helps prevent your hands from drying out. It’s why sanitizer has a thicker feel than pure rubbing alcohol. Once it sits and blends together for a few days, it’s ready to be bottled.

“Off of the still, it’s around 170 proof,” he said. “It ends up being a cumulative volume of 85%, which will kill pretty much everything it touches. It does the trick.”

While the County would’ve taken all 150 gallons of the first batch, Scharf decided to hold back 50 gallons for the local community. Put into 2 oz. bottles that the Distillery will sell for $2 apiece, he’s using the tools at his disposal to help make a difference.

“As long as there’s a need, we’re going to keep making it.”

The Distillery, located at 5462 Robbins Road, Ellicottville, is open on Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Hand sanitizer and bottles of spirits — including vodka, bourbon and others — are available for purchase. Find them on Facebook at The Ellicottville Distillery.