Dan Irion and Scott Barady set up their table in front of Rolling Still’s Lounge on Paseo del Pueblo Tuesday (March 24)like a summer lemonade stand.
Rolling Still’s vodka production switched to a new type of liquid on Tuesday (March 24) that might be more precious than the drink – hand sanitizer.
“It’s the exact same process,” Irion said about making the sanitizer.
After seeing a community demand for hand sanitizer and general disinfectants, Barady had the idea to cook up around 20 gallons of sanitizer to hand out for free. The result left the two draining their last drops for customers on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a service we can provide and it’s the least we can do,” Barady said.
Rolling Still Distillery in Taos has become known for its chile-infused vodka and craft cocktails but the process of making hand sanitizer entails the same road as making vodka, according to Irion.
Once distilled, the liquid comes out of the still at about 190 proof, or about 95 percent alcohol. To make vodka, the distiller then “proofs down” the mix with water to around 45 percent alcohol. Instead of going so far down for the sanitizer, Rolling Still brought the mix down to about 130 proof, which is around 65 percent alcohol.
The mix is then infused with local mountain sage and osha root, bottled and handed out for free by the company to use as a general disinfectant.
“We did it mostly because we could,” Irion said.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends using sanitizer with an alcohol content of over 60 percent to disinfect and kill viruses like the coronavirus.
At noon Tuesday, a booth with about 100 spray bottles of the sanitizing liquid was set up and pedestrians started making their way to grab their free supply.
Dozens of community members turned out to snatch a sample or fill their own jars and bottles of the mix.
“We’re going to portion it out into smaller containers and keep it in the cars,” said Bud Branch.
The owners of Rolling Still were constantly filling jars and running their spray bottles to drivers stopped on the side of the road hoping to nab a bottle or two.
Most pedestrians brought their own containers to the stand to fill up and take back home after being unable to find any hand sanitizer in the stores around Taos.
“It’s just going to make me feel more comfortable around town,” said Paymaneh Ghaffari. “It’s really nice they’re doing this.”
Some customers returned with more bottles to fill with the liquid after their first stop.
Before 1 p.m., all of the plastic spray bottles had been given out and the crew began handing out jars and bottles filled with the liquid.
“We have the ability to do this and we need to be helping each other right now,” Irion said.
Keeping up with an emergency
Rolling Still joins a growing list of distillers across the country who have largely switched production from their normal booze to the hand sanitizer that can’t come fast enough for communities in crisis.
The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau recently provided an exemption to allow distilleries to produce sanitizer to satisfy the growing demand nationwide. The result has allowed the companies to remain in business and continue production of a product that is already a basic part of their manufacturing.
In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Distillers Alliance has a dozen distilleries on the front line to provide sanitizer to their customers.
The movement is gaining steam across the country as more and more states join on to help fight against COVID-19.
“I feel much more secure and I’m grateful to be using this at home,” said Rachel Cohen. “It stops me from running around to the stores to look for some.”
The plan for Rolling Still is to continue making the sanitizer until their normal bar operations resume. The company’s Lounge on Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos is currently on hold due to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order to close all bars.
Need for small vials
Irion said he wants to continue providing the liquid for free to the community but has hit some logistical blocks.
Brewing the alcohol is no issue, in fact Irion said he could distil hundreds of gallons of the stuff if needed. The crew is currently trying to get their hands on small vials to hand out the liquid in.
The 100 bottles on Tuesday were snapped up before 12:30 p.m. and the rest of the sanitizer was served in glass jars.
In addition, the group is looking to hold another pop-up event soon to distribute more of the sanitizer though the community.