Distilleries rushed into the hand sanitizer market. Now some are trying to get out.


More than 800 craft distillers across the United States leapt into action to help in the first wave of the pandemic by producing hand sanitizer, urged on by federal agencies. But with demand for sanitizer fluctuating, distillers have faced unforeseen costs and excess supplies that they could not get rid of.

Their conundrum shows how life has become more complicated as the pandemic has persisted. What had been a no-brainer good Samaritan decision to help local communities and nurture a new business has instead devolved into a messy financial calculus as the hardships of the crisis continue piling up.

“It feels a little bit like no good deed is going unpunished right now,” said Spencer Whelan, the director of the Texas Whiskey Association, a trade group representing some of the state’s distillers.

The prospect of replacing liquor revenue with sanitizer sales piqued the interest of Jonathan Eagan, the co-owner of the Arizona Distilling Company in Tempe., Ariz. He spent $50,000 on alcohol to produce the disinfectant in the spring, and said he quickly sold enough of it to make up for two months in lost liquor sales.

That money was crucial, given that bars, restaurants and tours — the distillers’ main sources of income — were hobbled. But even as distillers ramped up sanitizer production, that lifeline also started petering out. As panic-buying of the disinfectant leveled off and production among larger companies stabilized, “the business just kind of dried up” in the last few weeks, said Mr. Eagan.

Now as Arizona deals with new virus cases, much of his remaining 1,000 gallons of sanitizer has sat idle.



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