A Slocan Valley craft distillery is joining the fight against COVID-19 by producing hand sanitizer.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“It is insane, the web I’m trying to get through right now,” says Lora Goodwin, who runs the Perry Siding-based Kootenay Country Craft Distillery with her husband.
Kootenay Country is a small craft distillery, producing 4,000 to 5,000 litres of gin and vodka annually with locally-sourced grains. But when the pandemic started, Goodwin says they wanted to do their part to help ease the shortage of hand sanitizer.
The product uses ethanol, a type of alcohol, which can be made from sugar at distilleries like Kootenay Country.
The province has been good at relaxing the rules to address the issue — bending regulations so distillers like the Goodwins can raise the alcohol content to the level for effective sanitization. Distillers don’t have to use BC-only raw materials either.
“Being a craft distillery in B.C., we are held to some very strict regulations for what we can use in our products,” she says. “The [B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch] has released us from those guidelines.
“So I can just go and buy cheap sugar for the hand sanitizer.”
But on other fronts, it’s been a bit of a nightmare. Currently Goodwin is trying to untangle several important licences out of the red tape of the federal government.
“I’ve literally spent six hours on the computer today, trying to get up to date with Health Canada, because I have to obtain two more licences to make this happen,” she says. “I need licences through the [Canada Revenue Agency] for an Excise Warehouse Spirit Licence … and now I have to get another licence from the CRA for a user licence, and two from Health Canada — for a product licence and site licence.”
But the pandemic is making that hard to do.
“It’s a lot of headache, because the government bureaucrats aren’t in their offices because of the situation we’re in,” she says. “They’ve been let go. So it’s talking to a lot of people on their phones at home. They don’t have their workplace computers in front of them. It’s been interesting.”
And worst of all, she’s finding raw material suppliers — for sugar, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide — are starting to try to profit off the shortage.
“When this became possible for us to do, I started pricing out ingredients for it,” she says. “And literally within 24 hours, some of the prices of the ingredients went up 100 per cent.
“Isn’t that crazy?”
Even once they cut all the red tape, nail down suppliers, get all the permissions and start production, she has a final problem — what to put the sanitizer in.
“Since we started trying to do this, finding bottles to put the product into is almost impossible,” she says.
Still, Goodwin is confident that they should soon be able to start delivering what she predicts will be about 1,000 litres of hand sanitizer.
And much of it is already spoken for. She has received requests from Nelson Home Care, the Nelson Police Department, BC Transit, Ootischenia Fire Department and community health facilities looking for the product.
She says all those orders will be delivered at cost as a community service.
A few hundred litres should be available commercially. But it’s too early to say where or when it may be available.