Pennsylvania distillery hand sanitizer

Caitlin Bagenstose and Logan Snyder make hand sanitizer March 16, 2020, at the Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in New Tripoli, Pa.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania distilleries began pumping out hand sanitizer this month to combat price gouging and depleted store shelves as fear of the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

It’s a welcome development for the industry after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down indefinitely – including the state-owned liquor stores. He likewise instructed bars and restaurants to suspend all dine-in services. 

Maggie’s Farm Rum near Pittsburgh and Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in Lehigh County joined distilleries across the country in an effort to increase the supply of hand sanitizer after store shelves ran empty during escalating outbreak, which has killed 200 Americans and sickened more than 15,000 others. 

“We are in a national emergency,” Eight Oaks brewery founder Chad Butters told The Associated Press. “What’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is support this community by providing something that is in desperate need. We’ll flood the valley with hand sanitizer and drive that price right down.”

“We’re trying to make sure we continue to provide a paycheck for our employees and support our community however way we can do that,” he added.

It’s a growing trend within the industry as revenue streams dry up. Leadership from four national distillery groups – Distilled Spirts Council of the United States, American Craft Spirits Association, Kentucky Distillers Association and the New York Distillers Guild – asked Congress on Wednesday for financial aid in the face of widespread shutdowns, noting that many will need to lay off employees, reduce production or close their doors permanently.  

“These developments not only impact the livelihoods of distillers but also those of farmers, glass bottle makers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and countless others connected to the spirits industry,” the leaders said. "The U.S. spirits sector’s close link to hospitality and tourism industries also underscores the need for relief that enables bars and restaurants to keep their doors open beyond the COVID-19 crisis.”

It's unclear how long the state will keep businesses closed. Public health officials warned Friday that Pennsylvania's existing coronavirus cases will only surge over the coming weeks.

"We expect things to get worse before they get better," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Friday. "We are still seeing an exponential rise in cases across the country and in Pennsylvania."

Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said in an editorial for Delco County Times that despite the hardship, the governor made the right call. 

“Gov. Wolf’s order to close the state’s restaurants and bars was difficult, but it was in the best interest of public health,” he said. “Hopefully, it will slow the spread, flatten the curve, and give our health care networks the time they need to prepare.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.