By Bob Uphues
When the state's bars and restaurants shut down March 16, things got suddenly very dicey over at Quincy Street Distillery, the craft manufacturer of high-end spirits, including vodka, gin, bourbon and moonshine.
The tiny distillery's tasting room, which has become something of a destination for craft booze aficionados, went dark and the distillery's distributors went on hiatus.
"Because a large portion of our revenue comes from bar sales, when the order came down to shut, it closed off a major revenue stream for us," said owner Derrick Mancini.
But because making alcoholic liquor was considered an "essential" business, according to the order, there was room to maneuver.
So, Quincy Street Distillery went into the hand sanitizer manufacturing business.
"This is a way to help us survive," said Mancini during a phone interview on April 5.
While it took about two weeks to zero in on what it was going to take to get FDA approval of the product – which is made from a World Health Organization-approved formula consisting of ethanol, a bittering agent used to denature it, hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and water – Quincy Street Distillery mixed up its first batch of about 200 eight-ounce plastic bottles late last week.
About half of the inventory sold during the first two days it was for sale at the shop, 39 E. Quincy St. The bottles sell for $8 each. With tax and a $2 deposit – Mancini said he would like as many of the hard-to-source bottles returned so they can be reused – the total comes out to $10.80.
The tasting room is open Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. Sales are limited to one bottle per person. Mancini said the distillery is planning to make a second batch of the hand sanitizer this week.
As it appears that the Illinois stay-at-home order and restaurant/bar shutdown may be in place for a while, Mancini said he hopes to be able to ramp up production.
Not only would he sell more of the hand sanitizer to consumers directly, but he said he'd like the distillery to make enough to distribute or sell at a reduced cost to nonprofits, healthcare facilities and to first responders.
To help fund that effort, Mancini has established an online hand-sanitizer fundraiser to help pay for supplies, utilities and other aspects of the effort at gofundme.com/f/quincy-street-distillery-fund-for-hand-sanitizer.
Mancini said if he can ramp up, he would be able to commit the still he uses to produce vodka to the hand-sanitizer effort. That would likely take an upgrade to that still, the cost of which might be aided by a separate fundraiser.
"This problem is not going to go away tomorrow, especially at the local level," Mancini said. "If we're living with this for a long time, it might be a long time before we get to an equilibrium stage, and the average person might not be able to get hold of [hand sanitizer] when they need it. That's what made me think we should do this."
The foot traffic generated by hand sanitizer sales last weekend had the additional benefit of helping sales of Quincy Street Distillery spirits, which had crashed after the governor's March 16 restaurant/bar closure order.
"It's now comparable to before we shut down the bar," said Mancini, who added that the new product has brought in some first-timers to the business. "A good percentage of the people who stopped in to pick up hand sanitizer picked up spirits."