In Franklin County, known as the moonshine capital of the world, a local distillery is putting its skills to good use during the COVID-19 pandemic by producing hand sanitizer.
It’s a strange time for Twin Creeks Distillery, which has a tasting room in Rocky Mount and produces its spirits in Ferrum. A few weeks ago it was making whiskey to sell, but now it’s making hand sanitizer to give away, said Chris Prillaman, the owner and distiller.
“I could have never imagined a month ago that we’d be in this position. Amidst the hard times, it’s really a beautiful thing,” said daughter Anna Prillaman, who handles communications and marketing for the distillery.
Before the number of COVID-19 cases began ballooning in Virginia, Roddy Moore, the former director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College, called and suggested Chris Prillaman make hand sanitizer to combat the shortage.
Prillaman said he didn’t give it much thought at first. Then a few days later, chatter around the idea grew and he saw other distilleries making the shift.
“I said, ‘If they can do it, well, daggone, we can do it,’ ” Chris Prillaman said.
The Distilled Spirits Council website indicates that Twin Creeks is one of at least 17 distilleries in Virginia that have begun making hand sanitizer. Similar efforts are underway in other industries as well.
Spectrum Brand Holdings, which produces Cutter brand insect repellent, announced Friday that it would make hand sanitizer at its Blacksburg manufacturing plant. It plans to donate to “community partners” such as Carilion Clinic, according to a news release. The sanitizer will be commercially available for purchase in the coming weeks, spokeswoman Lacey Ebert said.
Twin Creeks is giving all of its sanitizer away for free. Anna Prillaman said people have been incredibly generous in donating toward the effort, offering both financial support and supplies like bottles.
“We’re going to make it as long as there’s a need for it, as long as people are calling for it and as long as we can cover our expenses doing it,” she said.
Chris Prillaman said he was grateful for the community’s support. People get busy in their everyday lives, but during a crisis they come together.
“That’s what’s happening right there in our little community,” he said.
The hand sanitizer production team is just five people, Anna Prillaman said. She and a cousin do the bottling and labeling. The tasting room manager has become a pseudo-chemist, putting all the ingredients together. And Chris Prillaman and one other distiller handle the alcohol part.
Initially the phones were ringing off the hook and email and social media inboxes were inundated with inquiries about the sanitizer. Now, a couple of weeks into the endeavor, Anna Prillaman said she feels they’ve come up with a system for distribution.
The Rocky Mount tasting room is still open for curbside pickup, and members of the general public can come by to collect a maximum of 4 ounces of sanitizer per person. Many are bringing their own bottles, which Anna Prillaman said is a great help.
Everyone has been respectful of the 4-ounce limit, she said — no hoarders here.
She’s noticed that most people picking up sanitizer have been younger, under 40, and many say they plan to give it to older relatives.
Larger quantities are available for businesses upon request. Anna Prillaman said hand sanitizer has already been distributed to many of the distillery’s commercial neighbors in downtown Rocky Mount, to Roanoke Valley nursing homes and to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
She said the most challenging part of making hand sanitizer has been getting supplies and ingredients, which have a slow delivery turnaround.
“It’s just hard to get your hands on,” she said.
The biggest difference in the distilling process is that hand sanitizer demands a higher alcohol content than Twin Creeks’ craft spirits.
Most of the liquor the distillery produces is about 90 proof, Chris Prillaman said, but for hand sanitizer the alcohol needs to be about 140 proof.
Twin Creeks uses corn as the base for its whiskey and rye, he said, and it has a distinctive smell. As a result, so, too, does the hand sanitizer.
One person told him: “It smells like Franklin County.”
“It does got the smell of whiskey,” Chris Prillaman said. “There ain’t no doubt about that.”
Anna Prillaman said her dad’s been telling people that if they get pulled over and the officer smells liquor, they should just explain they’ve got clean hands.
Twin Creeks wasn’t set up for this, but it made the adjustments necessary to pull it off, Chris Prillaman said, just like distilleries across the state and country have.
“If you can get it out to people and you can do some good, we sure need to be doing all we can as a community, as a state and as a country, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
In addition to hand sanitizer, the distillery is still selling alcohol for consumption, in case anyone needs “a little something to sip on to get through the hard times,” Chris Prillaman said.
“We’ll give them something to kill the germs inside and out.”