Spotsylvania County’s A. Smith Bowman Distillery has been crafting award-winning liquors for over 80 years.
In February, Whisky Magazine named its John J. Bowman bourbon as America’s best non-Kentucky single-barrel bourbon. Just last week, the distillery received news that it earned double-gold honors for its small batch bourbon at San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition.
But for now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, all of those honors and accolades have been temporarily put on hold.
Anywhere one looks today, the shortage of surface and hand sanitizer in retail stores is evident. Even shopping online for the products is futile. “Out-of-stock” is the new norm for these once-plentiful products.
But Bowman’s team saw the dismal picture as a perfect opportunity to help serve the local community, while putting their employees to work.
The distillery staff knew they had the formula, supplies, equipment and personnel to blend ethanol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water to produce surface and hand sanitizer. Two weeks ago, Bowman began manufacturing both of those products.
For now, production is limited to those who need it the most, including fire and law enforcement officials and hospitals.
“After being in the community for so long, and being such a big part of the community, we all felt we were able to do this,” said Brian Prewitt, Bowman’s master distiller. “We’re not looking to make a profit, we’re just trying to help the community out.”
The idea to produce sanitizing solutions came about earlier this month, when Prewitt started to see area businesses close their doors and workers lose their jobs. As health concerns escalated in the community, sanitizers were being cleared from the shelves as fast as they could be set out.
On March 15, the distillery announced it was suspending all visits and tours.
But rather than close its doors completely, Prewitt saw an opportunity to keep his staff employed by working to serve the community.
“There were a lot of people on our team who were worried that they would not have a job,” said Prewitt. “Not only do they have a job now, they are so happy they can help out.”
Since production of the solutions began this month, Prewitt said several cases, each containing nine 750 milliliter bottles of surface cleaner, have been delivered to Mary Washington Hospital, Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, and other local organizations that have requested help.
Also included in Bowman’s target area for distribution are senior living facilities, families at high risk for infection, tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
On Thursday, the distillery rolled out its first batch of gel-based hand sanitizer, which will be sent to those on the frontlines of defense against COVID-19. Hand sanitizer will be shipped in cases containing 24 bottles, at 200 milliliters each.
Bowman’s hand sanitizer is made from high-proof ethanol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water, which is then blended to achieve an 80 percent ethanol content. Surface sanitizer contains only two ingredients—ethanol and water.
Prewitt said the products are being manufactured in accordance with World Health Organization standards and said the distillery has enough materials in stock to continue making the product for the long term.
“We have our eyes on another shipment in case we need it,” Prewitt said.
Organizations in need of sanitizing solutions can sign up for delivery of the product as it becomes available on the Bowman Distillery’s Facebook page.
Requests have already been received from funeral homes, tradesmen, and ABC stores. In addition, Prewitt said, he’s had inquiries from agencies across the Eastern seaboard, all asking for assistance, as supplies of sanitizing solutions continue to vanish from store shelves and pharmacies as soon as they arrive.
“We’ve already had an unbelievable amount of people reaching out to us,” said Prewitt.
Prewitt said sanitizing solutions will eventually be available to the public at cost, but for now, emergency responders and health care providers remain the priority.
“Everybody is looking for these products, but we’re trying to concentrate on the Fredericksburg local area for now,” said Prewitt. “For now, we’re donating what we can, and we’ll eventually branch out from there.”
Other like-minded distilleries across the country have also stepped up with similar efforts like Bowman’s.
According to the American Craft Spirits Association, 150 distilleries around the country were surveyed and asked if they planned to manufacture sanitizing solutions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Seventy-five percent reported they are making, or plan to make, either hand sanitizer or distilling solution in the coming days and weeks,” said Alexandra Sklansky-Clough, the association’s public relations representative.
Sklansky-Clough further reported Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper, Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. in Purcellville, and Ironclad Distillery Co. in Newport News have each notified the spirits association they are now making sanitizing products.
“We continue to see more and more independent craft brewers declaring they intend to produce hand sanitizer, in some form,” said Julia Herz, program director for the Brewers Association.
James Scott Baron: