Lengthy Seaside distillery makes hand sanitizer to battle COVID-19

The ground is sticky, and the air smells like booze.

At Portuguese Bend Distilling in Lengthy Seaside, a skeleton crew in medical masks and Carhartt work shirts clambers across the copper nonetheless and stainless-steel fermenters that, in regular days, can be churning out vodka and gin.

However these aren’t regular days.

The little distillery, with its steampunk vibe and a big American flag on the wall, now exudes a form of pandemic patriotism. The alcohol is flowing, and it’s getting used not for cocktails however for one thing desperately wanted to combat the novel coronavirus: hand sanitizer.

“There’s simply no alcohol on the market,” mentioned Simon Haxton, the grasp distiller and part-owner.

Over the last two weeks, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Commerce Bureau issued emergency regulations permitting distilleries to instantly begin producing hand sanitizer, and the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration eased restrictions on the making and distributing of it.

Small native distilleries like Portuguese Bend and Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana have rallied to the trigger.

“We’re the little guys. We will do it,” mentioned Riahna Bjornsen, a Portuguese Bend distillery staffer with flowers tattooed on her arm and a modern-day Rosie the Riveter perspective. In addition to working right here, she’s an adjunct professor of communications at Chaffey Faculty in Rancho Cucamonga (now educating courses on-line due to COVID-19). She mentioned she was made for occasions like these, when lengthy hours and inventive options are demanded.

“I really feel like I’ve skilled my entire life for this,” she mentioned.

Portuguese Bend needed to shut its restaurant to in-house diners on March 17 due to escalating stay-at-home orders. They’d some leftover neutral-grain, high-proof alcohol meant for vodka, and the workers figured they might make a little bit of sanitizer to assist out the group.

However phrase bought out quick.

“We realized that there wasn’t any within the grocery shops, that individuals had been having a tough time discovering it,” Haxton mentioned. “We mentioned, ‘OK, we’ll put it in little bottles and provides it away when individuals come and decide up meals.

Distillery workers wearing face masks

The distillery crew at Portuguese Bend Distilling is churning out hand sanitizer as an alternative of the standard vodka and gin.

(Mark Potts / Los Angeles Instances)

“Earlier than you recognize it, we had been beginning to get cellphone calls from the utility corporations, from the submit workplace, hospitals, police departments.”

Homeland Safety got here and picked up some bottles. Tesla known as. So did Southern California Edison. Torrance Memorial Hospital wished to put an enormous order.

It’s all been a bit… overwhelming.

The distillery, named after the Portuguese Bend space on the Palos Verdes Peninsula that was a hotbed for rum smuggling throughout Prohibition, usually produces 100 to 150 gallons of alcohol every week. They hope to double and even triple their manufacturing of non-potable alcohol for the hand sanitizer, and even that gained’t be sufficient to fulfill demand.

“The numbers which are coming in are fairly staggering,” Haxton mentioned.

The distillery crew is simply Haxton and three others.

A couple of days in the past, when the bar and restaurant had been lowered to take-out and supply solely, Haxton needed to lay off 85% of his workers. The waiters. The bartenders.

It was a gut-punch for the distillery, which simply opened final June.

A distillery staffer works at a vat to make hand sanitizer

Riana Bjornsen, a Portuguese Bend distillery staffer, at work making alcohol for hand sanitizer.

(Mark Potts / Los Angeles Instances)

“They’ve been ride-or-die, with us because the starting,” Haxton mentioned off the workers. “We simply actually don’t have any cash coming in.”

For now, he hopes his workers are simply capable of get unemployment advantages and stimulus checks quickly.

Within the empty restaurant, an previous wood fishing boat is suspended from the ceiling. The boat is known as, appropriately, Moonlighting. The bar is now lined with white 1-gallon plastic jugs. Their labels have the Portuguese Bend Craft Distillery brand and the phrases: HAND SANITIZER NON-STERILE SOLUTION.

In today of shortages, even the jugs and bottles for the hand sanitizer have been arduous to return by. Haxton mentioned they’ve transformed just a few beauty containers with spray pumps into sanitizer bottles.

The distillery makes the sanitizer alcohol out of corn, utilizing an FDA system that requires it to be denatured, that means it has components like acetone or methanol to make it foul-tasting and toxic so individuals don’t drink it.

The alcohol is blended with hydrogen peroxide and glycerin and —voila! — hand sanitizer is born.

Andy Carlos, a bearded distillery employee in a black face masks and black disposable gloves, feels fortunate to nonetheless be working — and at a job he loves — proper now, with so many individuals dropping work.

It’s simply that there’s simply a lot demand for hand sanitizer, and solely a lot they will make. Carlos in contrast it to working at an animal shelter, seeing all of the cats and canines and eager to take all of them house.

“We simply want we may do extra,” he mentioned.

It’s unclear how lengthy Portuguese Bend will likely be within the emergency hand sanitizer enterprise. Could possibly be weeks. Could possibly be months.

It definitely wasn’t what Haxton pictured when the distillery opened final summer time.

“We haven’t had our one-year anniversary,” Haxton mentioned. “There’s numerous merchandise we nonetheless have but to make. I’m wanting ahead to creating the whiskeys, and I by no means would have thought that as an alternative of creating the most effective whiskey on the planet we’d be making hand sanitizer.

“However right here we’re.”