After toilet paper, the two most popular consumer items, while we all observed pandemic-mandated ‘Safer at Home’ orders, may well have been hand sanitizer and alcohol. This makes some sense since both, when used properly, can bring some peace of mind during trying times. Local distillery Stark Spirits, having significant experience with the latter, recognized a need they felt they could help fill. As co-owner Karen Stark puts it, “The basis for hand sanitizer is a distilled alcohol, we certainly know how to do that.”
Businesses all over have been retooling during the crisis, either out of existential imperative or simply the desire to help out in the community. And Stark Spirits stepped up to address the significant need for hand sanitizer. Despite their experience producing high-proof ethanol, turning to hand sanitizer was far more than simply flipping a switch or just following a recipe (although the World Health Organization insists you do that as well).
As a distillery, Stark was not licensed to produce non-beverage alcohol, so they first had to obtain a waiver from the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau). Such a waiver is granted only for the production of a single formula—the WHO’s #1 formula—so that is the formula Stark adopted. Then they had to get registered with the Food and Drug Administration and comply with the modified Department of Transportation regulations for transporting the volatile liquid. (Stark sanitizer is a liquid, not a gel.) Hand sanitizer is between 70 and 76% denatured alcohol, which is undrinkable, while Stark’s license requires that it produce 80% ethanol—160% proof. Not to worry, however. Despite the award-winning quality of their liquor, concerns about Stark sanitizer being voluntarily ingested are unfounded given the presence of glycerin and hydrogen peroxide in the formula.
As far as the sanitizer “business” is concerned, Stark says, “We received a number of large orders from first responder organizations at first, as well as from residential care facilities. That has tapered off quite a bit.” Orders now are more likely from individuals, and as restrictions ease, “We are now seeing moderately large orders for businesses that are opening up or projecting reopening in the near future.” For the Starks, however, this was never about making money in any case. “Actually, Purell being sold in Costco costs almost twice as much as we charge for the same amount…we did not want to take advantage of people’s fears and vulnerability,” says Stark.
We can all be thankful for local businesses like Stark Spirits that have stepped into the breach in a time of need, but like the rest of us, the Starks too would like to get back to “real business.” As Stark says, “We look forward to the end of the need for copious amounts of hand sanitizer and are anxious to return to what we love to do, creating Stark Spirits premium spirits.”
Photo: Courtesy Stark Spirits