Montanya moves to shift some production from rum to sanitizer

Doing what we are accustomed to do…

By Mark Reaman

The local rum maker, Montanya Distillers, is shifting gears with some of its production processes to produce an alcohol-based antiviral surface cleaner and cleaning spray. The idea is to provide the product to hospitals, nursing homes, testing sites, doctor’s offices, EMS facilities and anywhere else COVID-19 patients might be. It can be used to sterilize facilities and transportation vehicles like ambulances to help prevent the public spread of the coronavirus. The move comes as the industry as a whole responds to COVID-19.

“Until a couple of days ago, there weren’t good guidelines out in the industry,” explained Montanya’s co-owner and co-founder Karen Hoskin. “Only in the last week has the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) published some guidelines for us.”

At this time, the company is not making hand sanitizer. The World Health Organization recipe for hand sanitizer calls for 96% alcohol, which Montanya does not make.

Hoskin also said that she does not feel comfortable charging for the new surface sanitizer so the company is donating it. That donation is made possible in part because the TTB “has generously removed our excise tax burden from the alcohol.”

She was even hesitant to have a story written about the donation. “Although there has been a lot of media attention to companies doing this work, it’s not what we are in it for. We really care about meeting a local need quietly.”

The company is making the cleaning solution available to institutional recipients and not the general public because the product will be flammable. “We hope to keep it out of the hands of anyone who might mishandle it. This is our reason for going direct to institutional recipients. Any institution can request product to be picked up,” she said.

The product is made from what are called “alcohol heads,” 80% alcohol naturally produced as part of the routine distillation process but never used to make the rum.

“This is the highest alcohol content we create, and has never gone into a barrel to age,” she explained. “It is clear and we will not add hydrogen peroxide or glycerine. The heads tend to smell more like fusel alcohols than our hearts, which go into the barrel. (It is the barrel that adds the pleasant nose of the Oro and Platino.)

“We are not adding anything but a little distilled water, and we are thinking about adding a little lavender essential oil if we can get it just to give it a more pleasant odor,” Karen continued. “Recipients can put this into their own spray or squirt bottles. We will provide it in glass bottles.”

Making the sanitizer will not require the distillery to make significant shifts to its facilities or processes. While the tasting room and restaurant are currently closed, the company has still been able to distill and bottle rum while meeting requirements for responding to COVID-19. By using a natural byproduct of that process, Montanya only needs to add a few extra steps, such as an extra shift of bottling.

“The plan we have works perfectly to make a disinfectant antiviral for surfaces and spray in the facilities that we have,” Karen said. “We are not taking on any new chemical process to which we aren’t accustomed, such as denaturing or compounding. We produce about four gallons a day of this alcohol, so we feel we can provide a good quantity of it as long as we are allowed to continue production. We also feel strongly that we have all the local permits and approvals necessary to produce this alcohol in this product, while we don’t have permits or approvals to produce a compounded hand sanitizer.”

To order some of the new product, appropriate facilities can contact Karen at karen@montanyadistillers.com

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