Special to The Gardner News
When Bull Creek Distillery opened in Spring Hill in 2018, owner Mike Denny planned to make great bourbon and a welcoming place for good times. A great bourbon must be made in America, from corn, and aged in new oak barrels, with no unnatural additives. It’s unique from all other whiskey. Denny had no intention of turning his beautiful business into a production center for hand sanitizer.
A request last month from the World Health Organization changed his plans. When the coronavirus pandemic hit this country, the company that previously made a top quality, distinctly American libation changed focus to protect Americans.
“It’s a whole new wheelhouse for us,” said Jesse Lockard, manager of Bull Creek Distillery. “We’ve been working night and day. We had to gut the entire facility and turn it into a factory for this hand sanitizer. It completely transformed our business model.”
The World Health Organization requested help to fill the global demand for hand sanitizer on the very day that Bull Creek Distillery had to lay off all of their employees. A gritty group led by Mike Denny, owner; Dwaine Hood, distillery manager; and Steve Smith, property manager, maintained focus in an uncertain time. They upended their dreams of making bourbon to turn the new leaf of manufacturing hand sanitizer.
The Food and Drug Administration sent a recipe with precise instructions about exactly how to make the hand sanitizer so it would combat the COVID-19 in the fiercest way possible. Several distilleries across the country responded to the World Health Organization’s urgent request.
Denny came out of pocket to hire several consultants and chemists to ensure the safety and efficacy of the blend made at Bull Creek Distillery. He also decided that all of his staff would go through hazardous materials training.
“We got certified and had to learn special procedures for keeping everything clean and safe,” Lockard said. “Mike went out of his way to provide experts to make this work. The FDA sent some cowboy parameters about what they wanted done, and he went above and beyond their recommendations to ensure the safety of employees.”
Bull Creek Distillery, at 20559 S. Lone Elm Road in Spring Hill, began selling the sanitizer on Monday, and they had orders for more than half their stock before the very first week of availability began. They pre-sold thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer. The demand for hand sanitizer has increased 1,400 percent between December and January, according to Adobe Analytics, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fill the international need.
“We have orders from all over the world,” Lockard said. “We are making something really good that we would want our own kids to be able to use to protect themselves.”
The recipe from the FDA calls for a blend of glycerol, three percent grade hydrogen peroxide, water, and 96 percent grade ethanol. The end product is 80 percent ethanol, which has a strong aroma. To cut the scent, Bull Creek Distillery added a lavender fragrance. The prices range from about $13 for an eight ounce bottle all the way up to $42,803 for a 275-gallon tote, and everything in between. Orders can be made by requesting a price list from [email protected] With hand sanitizer supplies prioritized for hospitals, Bull Creek fills a significant gap by opening purchases to anyone who needs the product.
“We have set up for sales in our tent, so customers can place orders online and then pick them up in person outdoors to keep everyone at limited contact,” Lockard said.
They also are working on distribution and delivery options. Now that the manufacturing process is up and running, Bull Creek Distillery will be able to re-hire twelve of the 50 employees laid off due to the economic impact of social distancing and the closures that have affected restaurants and bars nationwide.
The process of becoming a central hub for hand sanitizer production has been one of hard, constant work, but Lockard and the crew are determined to keep production going.
“I enjoy the day-to-day controlled chaos,” Lockard said. “We all do what we need to do to help each other get through this time.”
Bull Creek Distillery steps up to help