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Berkshire Mountain Distillers shifts from spirits to sanitizers

SHEFFIELD — As shelves that once displayed a selection of cleaning supplies in grocery stores and pharmacies continue to be picked clean, a local distillery has shifted its operations to brew a product with the community’s safety in mind: hand sanitizer.
This past week, Daniel T. Riordan, the acting deputy administrator of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, waived provisions of internal revenue law with regard to distilled spirits, which provided certain exemptions and authorizations to distilled spirits permittees looking to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizers to address the demand for such products during this emergency.
By waiving provisions, any existing Distilled Spirits Permittee was immediately greenlighted to produce hand sanitizer or distilled spirits (ethanol) for use in hand sanitizer, without having to obtain authorization first, according to a statement issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
As such, Sheffield-based Berkshire Mountain Distillers jumped in to fill that need, said Chris Weld, owner and founder of the distillery.
“These are trying times for us all,” said Weld. “My hope is that this allows us to fulfill our community need.”
Berkshire Mountain Distillers, established in 2007, is available in 19 different states and has a line of award-winning artisanal spirits including Greylock Gin, Ethereal Gins, Ragged Mountain Rum, Ice Glen Vodka, Berkshire Bourbon and New England Corn Whiskey.
Weld says the mandated closure of bars and eat-in restaurant experiences has had an impact on the distillery.
“… It’s about half our business,” he said.
In the meantime, the staff of eight at Berkshire Mountain Distillers continues to go to work.
At the moment, Weld says the distillery isn’t purchasing raw material to make bourbon, for example. He described the time as “forced downtime” to catch up on repairs while barrels of bourbon are quietly aging away.
As for the production of hand sanitizer, the Sheffield business is using a 75 to 85 percent ethanol blend with vegetable glycerin and hydrogen peroxide that’s consistent with guidelines provided by the World Health Organization, according to Distiller Michael Sharry.
In making the hand sanitizer, the distillery is able to repurpose a byproduct that is often discarded, said Will Winn, rickhouse manager at the business. When making gin, rum, vodka or bourbon, a byproduct of the process called “heads” rises to the top of the sills, according to Sharry.
“We often dilute it and use it to clean and sterilize surfaces, but as you can imagine, it goes a long way,” said Sharry.
“It’s a great way to repurpose something that will be so useful for others,” said Winn.
Though Weld described the World Health Organization’s guidelines as “pretty straightforward” and like following a “chocolate chip cookie recipe,” he did note that he had a background in biochemistry.
The hand sanitizer was packaged in 5-ounce labeled “bitters” glass bottles. By Friday, March 20, the distillery had created around 100 gallons of the product. Because of the expedited process, Weld said the distillery went to Kwik Print Inc. in Great Barrington to create labels that had to be put on each bottle by hand instead of their usual label supplier, Dion Label Printing Inc. in Westfield.
Shortly after finishing up a few smaller batches, Weld said he dropped off quart-sized containers to local police and fire departments as well as Southern Berkshire Ambulance Squad. He also planned on dropping off some to the local food banks and pantries.
Within the next week, Weld anticipates having made roughly 200 gallons of hand sanitizer.
As the prevalence of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues, the demand for the product remains high. Berkshire Mountain Distillers is open every day, noon to 5 p.m., but encourages people to call ahead as supplies are limited.
As of Tuesday, the distillery indicated that the maximum purchase per person is two, 5-ounce bottles and one quart-sized container. Each 5-ounce bottle is $6.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers is located at 356 Main St. in Sheffield. For those that have wholesale requests, email courtney@berkshiremountaindistillers.com or call 413-229-0219.


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