PORT TOWNSEND — Known for its spirits such as whiskey and gin, Admiralty Distillers is shifting gears to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic and will start producing hand sanitizer for first responders and health care workers.
Owner Jake Soule, 48, hopes to begin production this week on the first batch of hand sanitizer. He was waiting Thursday on a shipment of bottles and glycerin to begin production in earnest.
Soule doesn’t know how much money he’ll end up investing in the project, but he predicts it to be in the thousands, mainly for materials, as the majority of his equipment used to distill spirits will make the conversion. He plans to donate the first bottles to those on the front lines but he may later open it up to the general public at cost.
“This isn’t a money maker. This is so everyone can be safe,” Soule said. “It’s been interesting jumping down this rabbit hole.”
Production on regular spirits has halted through the pandemic as he hasn’t had many sales and he can’t risk cross-contamination between materials.
“I only have one production line,” Soule said.
Admiralty Distillers began production in 2013 after Soule got his distilling permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), but it didn’t open for public sale until 2016.
Soule is the only current employee of the distillery.
Soule has been thinking about converting for awhile, but it wasn’t until last week that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and TBB made it possible for distilleries to switch productions to hand sanitizer.
Usually, it requires a specific permit, and the FDA oversees hand sanitizer as a drug and the TBB manages distilleries, Soule said.
“They basically said, ‘For the time being, you guys just go for it,’” Soule said.
Soule doesn’t know how much he’ll be able to produce as he wants to assist first responders and medical personnel with their stocks and then have some available for the public.
“While I would like to promise enough for everyone, I can’t,” he said. “There’s a pretty big effort all over the state by Distillers Guild members to really make a difference.”
This project has become a community effort, with other breweries and wineries assisting him with getting supplies he needs, but he is the only distiller on the North Olympic Peninsula that has the equipment to make alcohol at a high enough proof that can be used for sanitizer, Soule said.
Local partners so far include Camaraderie Cellars, Finnriver, Discovery Bay Brewing, Ryan Trail and Port Townsend Vineyards.
Soule said he hopes the list will continue to grow.
Part of his decision to make the shift was in part due to other distilleries in the nation switching models. He also said the Department of Emergency Management approached him about the possibility.
Soule wanted to start a distillery due to his love of spirits as a consumer.
“Distilling is a mix of art, science and a little voodoo,” he said.
The main materials he needs to make hand sanitizer is alcohol that is at least 80 percent (160 proof) — which he will have to denature himself or be charged taxes — glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. He plans to follow a recipe released by the World Health Organization.
“I could also use Isopropyl alcohol, but good luck finding that now,” he said. “It’s not a super complicated recipe.
“Long story short, it’s just a blend of that stuff.”
Soule encourages members of the public to save appropriate small bottles and containers — due to the shortage in the supply chain — and if people are interested in donating, Soule asks to be contacted by email at [email protected] because the criteria for ingredients he can use is stringent.
Those interested in purchasing are encouraged to watch the “Admiralty Distillers” Facebook page for updated information.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].