Postcards from the Edge No.8: Sanitation For The Nation

March 31, 2020, by Will Ziebell
Postcards from the Edge No.8: Sanitation For The Nation

There might have been plenty of teeth gnashing at the start of the year around the rise of hard seltzer, but March has seen both breweries and distilleries trade beer for an even less traditional product: hand sanitiser.

In the ACT, Capital Brewing Co and Underground Spirits have partnered up to make some for the territory’s government, with Capital producing a neutral grain beer to be distilled into ethanol by Underground Spirits, and subsequently turned into hand sanitiser.

Over the past few weeks, the brewery has lost almost 80 percent of their revenue after their Fyshwick taproom and venues around Australia have shut their doors. This meant they had free tank space ready to be repurposed for the new operation. 

“We are stoked to be able to do anything we can at the moment to help the community and particularly the people on the frontline of COVID-19 in the health department” says Capital managing director Tom Hertel.

They're far from alone. Archie Rose, the Sydney distillery that recently won top honours for its rye whisky at the World Whiskies Awards, sold out of their sanitiser – one made with a more alluring mix of botanicals and fruits than most scented candles – almost instantly. 

There are myriad examples overseas too, with both BrewDog and Dogfish Head supplying local health services with their own sanitiser.  

Back on home turf, Young Henrys have made use of the distilling side of their business to create some, as have Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers. As part of their #keepinglocalalive push, Healesville’s Watts River Brewing have made a hop-scented sanitiser and are selling slabs made up of 23 beers and one sanitiser for your drinking and cleaning pleasure.


Capital's head brewery Wade Hurley and Underground Spirits' head distiller Toby Angstmann.


Meanwhile WA's Spinifex and Limestone Breweries have enjoyed a run on national TV for their coordinated efforts, and CUB have said they'll be donating 40,000 500ml bottles of hand sanitiser to medical staff in partnership with hygiene company Ecolab.

In a sign of how fast things are moving, yesterday (March 30), the Federal Government announced it had eased the regulation of sanitisers too, allowing the product to be made and sold without the approval of the Therapeutic Goods Administration provided recipes developed by the World Health Organisations are followed. 

Then it comes to label, look and taste, Boatrocker’s Premium Hand Sanitiser is a long way removed from their typical barrel-aged, soured and hop heavy releases, and the gins and vodkas flowing from the distilling side of the operation. Co-founder Matt Houghton says that, as a business with the ability to both make wash and then brew it at a high purity, they wanted to help bolster supply of what's become an essential product.

“We began thinking about it early on in the crisis as we began hearing stories about the frontline not having hand sanitiser and couldn't believe it,” he says. “Then, when all the bars closed, we needed a revenue stream so we could survive."


Boatrocker's hand sanitiser. Not winning any packaging awards soon.


Matt says the decision to divert some of their attention from barrel-ageing to hand-cleaning was twofold.

“With a national shortage of ethanol and hand sanitiser, we're fielding multiple calls everyday,” he says. “We see it as an opportunity to support those on the frontline as well as provide much needed income for the business.”

For now, they’re selling the sanitiser in one litre containers and focusing on bulk sales – as Matt points out, the brewery isn’t set up to produce tens of thousands of 60ml bottles.

“There's also a shortage of plastic bottles at the moment," he says, "as most raw materials for these come from overseas.”

If a Boatrocker sanitiser does make it to the public, however, they’ll be sure to let everyone know just how you can get your own.

As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.

Photo at the top shows hand sanitiser production under way at Boatrocker.

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