A few months ago, Durham’s Mystic Farm & Distillery decided to expand beyond its well-known line of gin and bourbon liqueur and make a completely new product: hand sanitizer.
When Jonathan Blitz’s partner Michael Sinclair first came to him with the idea, Blitz thought it would be a distraction to their whiskey production. Now, he is glad he went along. “It’s turned out to be an absolutely enormous business… it’s given us a new lifeline.”
Mystic has been distilling gin, whiskey bourbon, and bourbon liqueur since 2013, and added sanitizer at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At first, the company sold to individuals, with so much demand that it backed up traffic down the street.
“It was awesome,” said Sinclair.
The business has now shifted from individuals to larger contracts, including one from Duke University.
Duke needed a dependable supplier after experiencing backorders with its usual vendors. “We had to find a plan B,” said John Noonan, Duke’s vice president of facilities.
Mystic turned out to be that plan B. The company said it could meet Duke’s huge demand.
That demand has gone up because the number of hand sanitizers on campus has increased from 1,000 to about 1,700 to accommodate the return of students to campus. “When you get thousands of students and faculty who are taking four or more shots of hand sanitizer a day, it adds up,” Noonan said.
Duke also is taking steps to ensure the sanitizing stations are environmentally friendly – refilling the bottles instead of replacing them.
What do the processes of making hand sanitizer and alcohol have in common? Not much. But the equipment to produce it is similar, which is why Mystic and other distilleries have gotten in the business.
The equipment Mystic uses was bought from a pharmaceutical plant auction and then adapted to distill alcohol. This same equipment has now come full circle, being used to make medical-grade hand sanitizer.
You might think that alcohol from the whiskey and gin might somehow be used in the hand sanitizer. But they are different products. It is more efficient to buy the base alcohol in bulk for the sanitizer.
Blitz says, “One of the reasons we’ve been able to get contracts from the large academic medical centers is that we are producing a high quality product and keeping that quality high. It’s not cheap or easy, but it has to be done.”
Blitz predicts they’ll be making the new product for a long time. “This generation for the next 15 to 20 years is going to use a lot of hand sanitizer.” Mystic is continuing to look at expansion options into over the counter drug opportunities now that they have the ingredients and equipment.
Blitz says hand sanitizer now outsells their spirits, but what matters is that the company is thriving. “We’ve been able to keep all our employees, which is what success means to me.”
Staff writer Dryden Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In photo above: Mystic now sells hand sanitizer in a variety of sizes. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal