Unsurprising to many observers, hand sanitizer has become a hot and rare commodity to find in stores. With supplies being prioritized for medical care facilities, it can be hard for those deemed essential workers to come across it.

To make up the shortfall, distilleries in the U.S. have been stepping up to the plate to provide a temporary stopgap in a time of need. And, as Rodney Edwards from local beverage distributor Grellner Sales & Services points out, distilleries have also been helping out with another problem: What to do with unsold inventory?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, states have issued stay-at-home and social distancing orders, which have forced many bars and restaurants to close down for an extended and indefinite period of time. The orders came as businesses were gearing up for high-volume sales days, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

They were then left with inventory they couldn’t sell and would eventually expire.

“Draft beer has a shelf life of about 60 to 150 days depending on the brand,” said Edwards, general manager with Grellner which distributes domestic, craft and import beers in communities including West Plains, Rolla, Sedalia and Camdenton.

He said his company had to pick up kegs of beer from businesses no longer able to sell them. It didn’t take long for the warehouses to fill with beer doomed to expire by the time stay-at-home orders could be lifted.

Edwards wasn’t sure what to do with all of it.

“We can’t dump it, because it would be bad for the environment, and we couldn’t sell it,” he said.

Then Edwards’ son Logan had an idea: They could donate the beer to a distillery that could make it into hand sanitizer.

Edwards reached out to Ozark Distillery in Osage Beach, which had already begun producing hand sanitizer.

“They were having to use hundreds of pounds of sugar to distill in order to make hand sanitizer,” Edwards said. He added that, while distilling beer is not necessarily efficient, it is much faster and easier to make hand sanitizer out of.

“They’ve already bottled and shipped out the first 500 gallons and are now making another 1,000 gallons,” Edwards said.

According to Edwards, the first batches would be distributed to Grellner employees at their offices, including those in West Plains. Bottles are also available to public.

Ozark Distillery is offering two 2-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer per person for free at its distillery during business hours. For more information about the distillery, call 573-348-2449.

In West Plains, a local distillery on the brink of opening hopes to produce hand sanitizer for the public once the owners receive their state and local liquor licenses.

Amanda Osborn, co-owner of Mmad Sprits Distillery in West Plains, 1524 Porter Wagoner Blvd., said she and her husband Michael, will be looking at producing hand sanitizer in addition to the whiskey, rum and other spirits already planned, once the licenses come through.

The sanitizer will be available to the public.

Phil Wages, owner of Wages Brewing Company in West Plains, 1382 Bill Virdon Boulevard, said he intends to donate a batch of beer to the distillery for the purposes of turning it into hand sanitizer.

“If it works out, we’ll help distribute it, too, via our current curbside service,” he said, noting that the exact logistics remain to be determined.

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