British Columbia distilleries that have turned to making hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic must now stop.
Clay Potter, co-owner of The Moon Under Water Brewery, Pub and Distillery in Victoria, says his team started producing hand sanitizer when the need was great and the supply uncertain.
“We have all the equipment in place, it took some trial and error to learn how to make it right and get it tested,” said Potter, who is also the distillery’s brewmaster.
He said he had invested in ingredients like glycerin and other materials to make sanitizer and planned to continue producing the alcohol-based sanitizer. But he received an email notice on April 7, and a follow-up letter a few days later, from the province saying all sanitizer production must cease by May 8. All remaining stock must be sold or donated by November.
Distillers say there is no need for a strict deadline to stop producing sanitizer and they feel betrayed after standing up for the public good during the pandemic.
“It’s just kind of another barrier for us. I’ve still got about a dozen four-litre jugs and then I’ve got a lot of spoiled booze down my back just waiting to be distilled,” he said, adding that he will make as much sanitizer as possible before the deadline.
The production of hand sanitizer obtained temporary authorization from the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch of British Columbia in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic.
“It’s not a huge source of income for us, but it helps. When the pubs were closed and our in-house lounge was closed, we had a lot of beer that was expired and we still don’t have everything to Done recovered.” Potter said. “Rather than throwing it away, we distilled it into disinfectant.”
Distilleries on deadline to sell remaining sanitizer
Tyler Dyck is president of the Craft Distillers Guild of British Columbia and owner of the Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Kelowna and Vernon. He said putting distilleries on a deadline adds unnecessary stress to an industry already hard hit during the pandemic.
“A lot of these distilleries that have cut off a whole arm to help support their communities in times of need, not only have they not received any help for it, but now they are effectively paying double because they have this product. which could help them recoup some of those costs.”
Her family business still has thousands of bottles of sanitizer, which they plan to donate to women’s shelters and frontline medical workers.
“This product can’t be used for absolutely anything else. So if distillers don’t sell it by November, they basically have to throw it down the drain,” he said.
In a statement to CBC News, the Department of Public Safety and Solicitor General said the temporary authorization was an “interim measure intended to address the shortage of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic.” The decision to now halt sanitizer production is in line with the province’s lifting mask mandates and vaccination card requirements, he said.
Distillers feel scorned by the government
At the start of the pandemic, the Prime Minister called on Canadian industry to help produce hard-to-find protective supplies. At the height of the shortage, a dozen distilleries in British Columbia supplied hospitals, government offices and emergency workers across the province, and produced tens of thousands of liters for free.
Dyck says that during that time, the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to source disinfectants outside of Canada. Because the market has been flooded with imported and foreign-made sanitizer, some B.C. distilleries are left with inventory they can no longer sell.
“After all of this, the state and federal governments go out and buy cheap, internationally made hand sanitizer and bypass those with their backs,” Dyck said. “It’s not just saying something. It’s a slap.”
Dyck said the latest advisory from British Columbia’s Alcohol and Cannabis Regulatory Branch is like putting salt in the wounds of distillers who were bleeding money due to COVID-19 restrictions, but who still faced high initial costs to manufacture disinfectant.
“Looking back, a lot of companies have gotten themselves into really tough financial straits doing the right thing for their communities, and they still would. Don’t get me wrong.