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Switching gears and brewing up solutions

Northern Waters Distillery begins sanitizer production

April 17, 2020 by Kayla Houp

With the demand for products like hand sanitizer increasing as concerns grow over the novel coronavirus, Northern Waters Distillery of Minocqua has pivoted from distilling liquor to producing sanitizer.

“It came about for a number of reasons,” owner Peter Nomm said. “One, I started to see on some of our forms and associations mailings that people were starting to do that. At the same time, other people were seeing it and calling us to see if we were able to make that.”

The distillery started its production of hand sanitizer the week of March 16 to test its sanitizer production process, and has since found its groove in producing batches.

“I’m just making it right now as fast as I can,” Nomm said. “I’ve got stuff running off of stills right now and we’re doing more fermentation so we can create more alcohol that we can turn into sanitizer.”

From ambulatory services to medical centers and post offices, Nomm said the distillery had gotten calls from several essential businesses and facilities in need of sanitizer.

“A lot of people are looking for it,” Nomm said.

The majority of the sanitizer Northern Waters Distillery is producing is currently going toward hospitals and other essential businesses, though Nomm said the distillery does keep a few gallons set aside to refill personal containers for those in need. 

“If somebody needs it, obviously we’ll fill it for them, and people are just coming with eight or 16-ounce containers, so it’s not big,” Nomm said. “We’ve asked people to put $5 or $10 in to help offset the cost, just to make it doable.”

The distillery averaged 60 gallons just last week, but Nomm hopes to increase that number with some adjustments to its production methods.

“It’s still very small,” Nomm said. “The biggest challenge for us is our equipment, our methods, are all designed for beverage alcohol, and there’s certainly less flavor and quality control for sanitizer alcohol. It just has to be very high proof and sterile, so I think we can make it a little more efficiently because.”

He described the process of producing sanitizer as being similar to producing vodka. 

By the time production is done, Nomm said the solution was still 80% alcohol with small amounts of glycerol and hydrogen peroxide mixed in.

Pivoting from distilling alcohol to sanitizer not only allows Northern Waters Distillery to maintain employment and break even on its cost, but also provide a product not readily available to those in need of it.

“I’m glad we’re able to do that,” Nomm said. “I wish I could find ways to make it cheaper because businesses that need it are paying for it. It’s higher than what I would want to pay for it, but we’re trying to make that happen; at the same time, at least we can provide something they can’t get.”

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]

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