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Business/Economy

A distillery’s switch to making hand sanitizer is helping other Anchorage businesses reopen — and saving its own

Distiller Alan Hartmann pours alcohol that he distilled from King Street Brewing Company Lemon beer on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Alaskan Spirits Distillery has stopped production of their award-winning vodka to produce Alaska Pr%f hand wash that is 160 proof (80% alcohol content) during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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An Anchorage distillery hit hard by the economic repercussions of COVID-19 is helping its business and others after it began making hard-to-find hand sanitizer instead of vodka.

“It was make it or break it,” said Hilary Lockhart, who owns Alaskan Spirits Distillery with her husband, Zack. “I had $100 in the bank, and we had no idea where the money would come from. It was scary."

Vodka sales have plunged after the South Anchorage distillery shut down its tasting room following mandated closures, she said. Liquor stores also reduced orders for high-end liquor. And the distillery has gotten no emergency relief funds, she said.

Zack, fearful that other businesses and organizations might close if they couldn’t get hand sanitizer, urged her to make the product, Lockhart said.

“He said, ‘We have to do this to help the economy,' ” Lockhart said.

The distillery began taking orders for the sanitizer two weeks ago. They’ve received hundreds of orders, often in large batches. The cost of a 32-ounce bottle ranges from $25 to $40, depending on the order size.

The calls keep coming in, she said.

“Over 20 just today,” she said.

Alaskan Spirits Distillery owner Hilary Lockhart and distiller Alan Hartmann fulfilled Alaska Pr%f Hand Wash orders to salons. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Other Alaska distilleries have also turned to making hand sanitizer, including Cook Inlet Distillery, which is selling it by the gallon to businesses and others, and the Anchorage Distillery, which is selling batches to governments and other institutional buyers.

On Tuesday, Lockhart loaded box after box of the distillery’s first batch of hand sanitizer into the backs of waiting cars. Several hairdressers had pre-ordered 240 bottles. They’re among the first businesses allowed to reopen under city mandates.

Stylist Sarah St. John had ordered dozens of bottles. She planned to distribute them to about 20 stylists around Anchorage. Hand sanitizer must be available for customers, according to the city requirements.

“I’m happy and excited that especially a local business is helping out other small local businesses to get their doors open and businesses moving,” St. John said.

Distiller Alan Hartmann and Alaskan Spirits Distillery owner Hilary Lockhart fulfilled Alaska Pr%f Hand Wash orders to salons on Tuesday. At right are kegs of beer donated by Matanuska Brewing Company that will be distilled to remove alcohol to make more hand wash. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The distillery isn’t working alone. Breweries have donated beer to provide the alcohol that’s a base ingredient for the sanitizer.

“We’re just taking the booze out of the beer,” said distiller Alan Hartmann.

On Tuesday, the distillery produced hand sanitizer using a lemon-infused beer donated by King Street Brewing. Matanuska Brewing Co. and Midnight Sun Brewing Co. have also donated beer.

To start the process, the distillery cracked open and poured 4,800 cans of the lemony beer into the still.

“It was a beer-pouring party," Hartmann said

Concentrated alcohol he called “hooch” dripped into a bucket.

He added glycerol for moisture as well as hydrogen peroxide, following a World Health Organization formula, he said. The Food and Drug Administration approved the sanitizer, Lockhart said.

Alaskan Spirits Distillery owner Hilary Lockhart holds a bottle of Alaska Pr%f Hand Wash. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Each bottle contains 80% alcohol. That’s well above the minimum to combat the virus, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It smells strong — like rubbing alcohol, Hartmann acknowledged.

“Normally, I’d take offense at that,” he said.

Lockhart said the sanitizer sales will allow the distillery to stay afloat until the economy comes back.

She said it feels good to play a vital role during the pandemic.

“I’ve never been thanked so much,” she said.

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