“I could use a drink” has been said in stressful times.
The owners of La Crosse Distilling Co. had a different idea for helping people deal with the stress that comes with self-isolating, social-distancing and other concerns related to the coronavirus.
In response to the spread of COVID-19, La Crosse Distilling Co. switched from distilling spirits and began making a hand-sanitizing product they made available for free to those who need the product.
La Crosse Distilling spirits are distilled from a certified organic ethanol base which allowed their production team to develop an 80% alcohol antiseptic topical solution.
“As COVID-19 continues to influence nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives, the health and well-being of our community is top of mind,” La Crosse Distilling founder Nick Weber said in a news release. “Amid all the negative, we saw an opportunity to make a positive impact. This is our small contribution to our community, and a slight nod to finding the positive in every situation.”
Angela Welchert, La Crosse Distilling Co. community outreach director and leader of marketing and communication for the hand sanitizer project, said the decision to move from distilling spirits to making hand sanitizer was made pretty quickly when staff realized the difference they could make.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic started becoming a very stark reality and people started increasing demand for hand sanitizer, everyone realized demand was far exceeding supply,” Welchert said. “It bubbled up from a pretty small idea amongst our distillers and we began to realize the severity of the shortage and the demand and wanted to provide a service to the community.”
Welchert said La Crosse Distilling Co. realized they could help alleviate the hand-sanitizer shortage after seeing several distilleries on the West Coast make the switch to making the product. Soon thereafter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a formula to manufacture hand sanitizer. The CDC then gave La Crosse Distilling the approval they needed to manufacture and distribute hand sanitizer.
On March 19, La Crosse Distilling Co. announced on their social media channels their plan to begin to manufacture hand sanitizer.
“That set off a firestorm,” Welchert said. “We had an outpouring of inquiries from everywhere.”
Welchert said they heard from individuals with compromised immune systems, first responders, government agencies, power companies and organizations like Lyft and Uber, who were looking to supply hand sanitizer to their workforce.
“We took a split second to decide to shift our production from spirits to fully committing to hand sanitizer,” she said.
The distillery was founded in 2018 by Weber, Chad Staehly and Mitchell Parr. The distillery partners with area farmers, including Patrick McHugh of McHugh Farms, to create organic spirits. McHugh Farms grows about 100 acres of rye, wheat and corn exclusively for the distillery.
Welchert said the distillery is continuing to source its ethanol, which is the main ingredient in the hand sanitizer, from local suppliers.
La Crosse Distilling Co. held distribution events at several area locations and gave away all of their first batch of hand sanitizer in several hours.
“We are really working off of inquiries we are getting, starting with the people who are reaching out to us,” Welchert said. “We have high-risk individuals, essential businesses and high-risk exposure employees like those people who are on the front lines and have to be working to make sure our community is up and running. Because we have such a large backlog of inquiries, we’re trying to prioritize to those who are at the most risk of contracting coronavirus and those who are most crucial to our community.”
New Richmond’s 45th Parallel Distillery made a similar move to manufacturing hand sanitizer and passed out at least 250 gallons of homemade hand sanitizer, all free of charge, March 23 to businesses, organizations and residents from across western Wisconsin looking for some protection from the virus that causes COVID-19.
The line of cars extended up to a mile and people waited for as long as an hour to have distillery employees fill containers with sanitizer, according to owner Paul Werni, who added hand sanitizer to the distillery’s normal lineup of vodkas, gins, whiskeys and other spirits.
La Crosse Distilling Co. started a Gofundme page for the hand sanitizer project, and Welchert said the funds raised from that will go to contributing back into their community effort.
The distillery’s efforts will focus on a “greater-good effort” going forward, and prioritize efforts on those who are most at risk, Welchert said.
“We’re really excited to strategize on how we can make the most impact through the avenues that we have,” she said.
Welchert said customer sentiment for the company’s hand sanitizer efforts has been very positive.
“Everybody has been extremely gracious,” Welchert said. “Everybody is touched by the dedication we’ve had to make this happen and they recognize how much work it takes to switch production over from spirits to making hand sanitizer and deliver it to the community.”
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram contributed to this report.