UPDATE: Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery announced Wednesday that it would offer takeout and delivery service.
Although part of his business has come to a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic, a Whiteville resident has adapted to meet an important public health demand and keep some of his employees working.
Alex Munroe, owner of Cape Fear Distillery, part of Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery in Elizabethtown, is finally seeing a business venture that’s previously been in the works come to fruition. But it’s not alcohol, or at least the kind you drink.
“We’re using our storehouse of rum and gin to produce hand sanitizer,” Munroe explains. “We’re selling out every day.”
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, notified permitted distillers on March 25 that they could make sanitizers without going through the “usual hoops” of getting production approved, Munroe explained.
Nationally awarded in 2019 for its maritime gin, Cape Fear Distillery had explored production of hand sanitizer before the coronavirus pandemic and has trademarked the name DistilliSan to reflect a distillery-grade product.
For sanitizers, federal standards for alcohol are set at 140 proof. Cape Fear Distillery uses 160 to 170 proof alcohol in its mixture. Unlike distilling grain alcohol to cut and infuse with flavor, the raw product is cut in half and blended with hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and other ingredients.
Munroe notes the distillery would make twice the profit by selling the alcohol as rum or gin, but the public need for sanitizer has caused them to shift their focus.
“People are actually going crazy for it,” he says. Currently, the distillery is producing and selling around 2,000 bottles per day.
Unlike other hand sanitizers, DistilliSan is glass bottled and cork topped.
“It looks like there’s a 50 million bottle back-order for small spray bottles in the United States,” Munroe notes, referring to nationwide shortages due to COVID-19. Therefore, the company is bottling the sanitizer in their regular whiskey bottles.
Along with masses of business-owners, Munroe has experienced setbacks at both the winery and the distillery during the coronavirus outbreak. “It’s been terrible,” he notes. “We’ve had to put off 20 to 30 employees.” The winery’s on-site restaurant, visitor center and cottages have been closed for two weeks, and all events postponed for two months.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to bring five or six of them back in while we’re making the hand sanitizer,” he adds. “As long as we have the supplies, we’ll be making this for the foreseeable future.”
DistilliSan is available in several retail locations across the region, including McNeill’s and Baldwin Woods pharmacies in Whiteville. Average retail is $15 for 25 ounces.