Smooth Ambler Spirits Commits to Manufacturing 19,000 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer

Private industries are stepping up to aid areas hit especially hard by the spread of COVID-19. Locally, a West Virginia distillery has transitioned into manufacturing hand sanitizer for the federal government in addition to the spirits they typically make at their Maxwelton, WV location. CEO John Little said Smooth Ambler has made around 11,000 750-ml bottles of hand sanitizer so far, which were then shipped to hard-hit areas like New Jersey. The distillery is committed to making 19,000 bottles in total. 

“We were all looking for ways to help,” said Little. 

Part of Smooth Ambler was sold three years ago to Pernod Ricard, a large wine and spirits company, said Little. Pernod Ricard’s public relations rep, Tara Engel, reached out to the Trump administration to offer assistance in manufacturing hand sanitizer.

“Tara contacted the White House to ask if we could help,” said Little. “[Peter] Navarro, Assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Manufacturing, he said yes, absolutely, to Tara.”

The manufacturing process itself is simple, said Little. It involves three ingredients, along with water: Alcohol, glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide. 

“We have the equipment,” said Little. “We don’t actually have the grain neutral spirits, which are 192 proof alcohol, but what we do have is relationships in the marketplace.”

Additionally, Smooth Ambler already had blending tanks, mingling tanks, and bottling equipment. They had access to bottles, labels, and caps. They were able to get glycerin and hydrogen peroxide from their current vendors. The alcohol was provided by two different places, Little said.

The hand sanitizer Smooth Ambler is making is not the typical gel kind consumers typically find in stores. Instead, it’s a liquid.

Since the distillery already had industry connections, equipment and ingredients, what they really needed was bureaucratic assistance. 

“We really needed some red tape to be removed,” said Little. “There are some distilleries that had done it before us, but you need clearance from the FDA and [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] TTB. So the administration, in coordination with Pernod Ricard, helped remove that red tape, making it easier for us.”

The hand sanitizer is made on-site using an old bottling line, Little said.

“We’ve continued to blend and bottle our existing lines, and the blending and bottling team is running as usual,” Little said. “But the mash and distill team, we converted their workspace with an old bottling line. They are bottling hand sanitizer on that line. That line will never be back in production.”

Little said office staff is working remotely, with the exception of some shipping of boxes.

The hand sanitizer is being donated, said Little, with the distillery taking in no revenue for it.

“The craziness is trying to meet all the demand,” he said. “You hate to tell anybody no. We are trying to supply everyone we can locally, and also to meet FEMA’s shipment request. They asked us to ship to the hardest-hit areas in the country.”

Little said last week a shipment of 2,400 bottles was sent to New Jersey. 

“We will deliver 5,000 on Monday,” Little said last week. “We send an email to Tara saying how much we have ready to go and we wait to hear from her about where they need to go.”

Little hopes to continue to meet needs where the distillery can.

“We are certainly proud of what we have done and what we are in the midst of doing,” he said. “We are just not capable of doing it all on our own because we are so small, but certainly 19,000 bottles is not nothing.”

Lastly, when prompted, Little recommended a cocktail for those currently in quarantine.

“If you have it, it’s easy: A brown derby,” he said. “It’s nothing more than bourbon, grapefruit and honey. That is my go-to cocktail. Everyone has honey but you might need to get a little fruit.”

A recipe for a brown derby can be found on Smooth Ambler’s site.