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Workers at Journeyman Distillery prepare some of the containers of hand sanitizer that the Three Oaks distillery is making from scratch. The distillery will be offering them free of charge to the community, starting today, though donations are welcome.

THREE OAKS — Journeyman Distillery is working to help Southwest Michigan residents protect themselves against spreading germs.

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak began to make its way to Michigan, the Three Oaks distillery discussed making and distributing hand sanitizer that could be made on its premises.

That possibility became a reality this week when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the state’s alcohol distilleries would be allowed to manufacture hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau relaxed their regulations in order to allow beverage distillers to make denatured alcohol,” according to a news release from the Michigan Emergency Operations Center. “This production is not normally permitted unless a distillery has an industrial manufacturing permit, which no Michigan distiller currently has. Under the relaxed rules, Michigan distillers can make denatured alcohol without the normally required permit.”

The relaxed rules will remain in place through June 30.

Lindsay Tschida, event sales manager at Journeyman, said they are doing bottle sales from its retail section on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. (which are permitted by the state).

She said they are handing the hand sanitizers out for free, though people of course can donate for the cause. She added that 40 percent of sales collected from people who buy the sanitizer, or other distilled products, will go toward hourly employees who are currently without jobs.

“At this point, we are making it for little bottles,” Tschida said. “The hope is to produce more, and that can be something that can go out to people who are working in the health care field. We also had a day care that’s still in operation that called in asking for some.”

Because in-house service has been temporarily shutdown by the state for all restaurants and bars, Journeyman is promoting its hand sanitizer through social media.

“We created a little label and chose to get it out as fast as we could,” Tschida said.

Ray Barskus, an accountant at Journeyman, said it isn’t too far-fetched of an idea for distilleries creating hand sanitizer.

He said Journeyman’s uses a wheat-based neutral grain spirit that operates as the sanitizer’s base.

“The final product is 70 percent ethanol from the neutral wheat base,” he said. “From that, we use the World Health Organization’s recipe, which stipulates 70 percent glycerin as a thickener so the material stays on the hands a little longer.”

Tschida said the distillery will continue to make the sanitizer based on what the state mandates.

“Something we’re pretty proud of is how our products are hand-made, organic and grain-to-glass,” she said. “I don’t think anything is out of reach. We’ve talked about our own cleaning products in the past.”

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