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Coronavirus Latest: Pennsylvania Distilleries Hoping To Produce 'Roughly Half-Million' Bottles Of Hand Sanitizer Daily

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the focus is shifting at many Pennsylvania distilleries. Beginning as soon as this weekend, they'll produce hand sanitizer instead of liquor.

"Our goal is within the first two weeks to be able to be at an output of roughly a half-million bottles per day," New Liberty Distillery owner Robert Cassell said.

Cassell isn't talking about bourbon. Instead, he's talking about hand sanitizer.

Cassell is the president of the Pennsylvania Distillers Guild. He's now bringing all of the state's 130 distilleries together to produce hand sanitizer.

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"All of us are producing vodka. We make 95% ethanol, so to be able to switch that to be able to use for a different product, is a pretty easy transition for us," Cassell said. "It's basically ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and a small bit of water."

While the process of making booze and hand sanitizer is similar, they had to cut through a lot of red tape to make it happen.

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"What we heard from distillers, they had the capacity, they had time, they had the basic ingredients. They just needed relief," state Sen. Vincent Hughes said.

Hughes is one of the lawmakers who helped make the deal happen.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health asked the distilleries for help, but FDA, Treasury and state liquor regulations stood in their way.


While their tasting room is closed and stills are now dry, their mission, for the time being, is changing.

"I definitely didn't get into making whiskey to make hand sanitizer, but I'm really happy that's the direction that we're going," distiller Chris Lowe said.

The hand sanitizer will be distributed to first responders and hospitals free of charge through the Department of Health.

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