From Vodka to Hand Sanitizer, Dry County Shifts to Help During Coronavirus Outbreak

March 18, 2020
Dry County Brewing Hand Sanitizer

Photo Credit: Knox Bardeen/RADIO.COM

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KENNESAW – Empty toilet paper aisles at grocery stores, no bottled water, no bread, milk… most of us have seen the empty shelves or witnessed someone hoarding a product as the Coronavirus pandemic expands.

Trey Sinclair, founder and president of Dry County Brewing Company, remembers price gouging as the main reason he decided to shift production of one of the breweries most popular products and begin making hand sanitizer.

And Dry County is giving it away for free.

When the Coronavirus popped up in the United States price gouging on sanitizer wasn’t the only issue. Manufacturers were running out, so were the many people in need.

Dry County was Georgia’s first brewer-distillery combo. They “had a ton of 190-proof spirit vodka base in house.” Sinclair voiced a question to brewmaster Steve Anderson.

“In theory I think we could make sanitizer ourselves, right?”

The duo thought the idea had merit. Both were upset and ready to do something.

The World Health Organization has documentation online which explains how to make and label hand sanitizer.

“It’s super simple,” Sinclair said. “It’s our spirit, cut down to a certain proof, blended with glycerin to make it more congealed.”

Where was Dry County to get the glycerin?

Their first stop was Jo-Ann Fabrics. They bought Jo-Ann out of stock of glycerin; cleaned out the soap-making aisle. That wasn’t enough, however.

Enter Beaumont Products.

“Our neighbors two doors down, Beaumont Products – they’re the makers of Citrus Magic and use glycerin by the truck load," said Sinclair. "Early we were ordering glycerin off Amazon, then we ran into trouble getting that. Now we’re going down there and filling kegs of glycerin up and bringing back over.”

That’s when Dry County went back to Amazon to order two-ounce plastic bottles. As soon as that order arrived, Dry County Hand Sanitizer was offered to the public.

From a business standpoint, both the free price point and the idea to even begin making sanitizer seems scary.

Sinclair said he’s pretty sure demand for Dry County beer and spirits is going to decline in the near future. He’s not even sure for how long. That said, he still decided to stop making one of the breweries best-sellers and pump that product into hand sanitizer he could sell, but decided to give away.

“It’s a double-edged sword out there because bars and restaurants are closing down,” Sinclair said. “Some of our demand is going to decline over the next month or foreseeable future. We have one of our most popular products in our Blueberry Lemonade Vodka that we make with real blueberries, real lemon juice and our Dry County brand vodka. That’s been flying off the shelves.

“But we don’t see that happening over the next few weeks. We had a supply of the vodka we were planning to use in that product and we went ahead and diverted the vodka over to hand sanitizer.”

All while expecting sales to decline, Sinclair pulled the plug on Blueberry Lemonade Vodka and decided to help the community.

“I didn’t, at all, want us to appear like we were trying to profit off of this tough time,” said Sinclair. “It’s not going to be the easiest time for us. But we don’t have it nearly as bad as the restaurants and bars and bartenders out there or, not to mention the elderly or the sick, the high-risk people who are going to go through this. The fact that people were price gouging or hoarding is kind of what made the idea happen. We definitely didn’t want to jump in on that.”

The response has been phenomenal.

Demand spiked. But that’s both good and bad.

Dry County has had nursing homes reach out, fire stations, even neighborhoods in Kennesaw; all wanting bulk supplies of sanitizer. And they’re all in need. The walk-up traffic at the brewery to pick up two-ounce bottles of sanitizer was high too.

But Dry County has another bottleneck… bottles.

“Our plan right now is to keep making this as long as we can, as long as we’re needed to,” said Sinclair. “We have enough vodka and we can make more of that. We’ve got enough glycerin.

“Right now we’re running into the issue of not being able to source enough two-ounce bottles for it. We put everything in cans, that’s an item we don’t normally stock.”

They ordered every two-ounce bottle from Amazon they could. Supplies ran out. Currently Dry County is sending people away with plastic to-go ramekins of hand sanitizer. Another shipment of two-ounce bottles is expected by week’s end.

When they arrive (Amazon is backed up, too), Sinclair, Anderson, and the rest of the Dry County crew will fill the bottles. Right now, using their makeshift production line of a couple of retrofitted kegs along with a few tools around the brewery, they’ll make what they can store and distribute. One bottle at a time; no sense automating.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to do this very long,” Anderson said. Sinclair laughed at their humble setup.

“We didn’t have equipment that makes this,” said the brewery’s founder. “We’re not a soap or a cleaning manufacturer. We’re a beer and spirits manufacturer. Everything we have set up is for large canning runs, 15-gallon keg runs, not two-ounce bottles.”

Those two-ounce bottles…

Everything else seems to be falling right into place. Dry County is trading beer to their neighbors for glycerin. There’s enough vodka in the building to last a while. Sinclair guesses the outbreak will be passed before they run out of product.

Dry County even hopes to be able to fill bulk orders within the next 10 days or so.