Instead of scotch and beer, spirits makers from San Jose to Fairfield and across the Lake Tahoe border are serving up bottles of sanitizer these days, in a bid to help citizens fight the coronavirus. Among the many San Jose business leaders galvanizing on behalf of Santa Clara County’s 1.9 million residents are real estate entrepreneur Gary Dillabough, who reached out to Dan Gordon, CEO of Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, for the effort. The brewer was thwarted by federal regulations that required a distiller’s license, but both knew of the Maestri family of San Jose, whose Frank-Lin distillery had moved 80 miles northeast to Fairfield and had rail car-sized quantities of ethanol, isopropanol and plastic bottles on hand. Gordon secured a shipment of hydrogen peroxide, the third key ingredient in hand sanitizer, and the operation began. An initial batch of 3,500 gallons was dispensed into 200 ml and 1.75-liter spray bottles on April 4 and shipped to San Jose. A second, 5,500-gallon batch is in the works, pending acquisition of isopropanol. Dillabough is in charge of six-figure fundraising efforts and directing the delivery of sanitizer to the city of San Jose, to front-line responders and to emergency care packages for families hit by COVID-19. Says Gordon, “Gary doesn’t want to turn this off until everybody has the sanitizer they need.”
Meanwhile, San Francisco environmentalists and philanthropists Christopher and Camille Bently, who recently launched Bently Heritage, a company intent on making America's finest single malt scotch in a farm-to-flask operation in Minden, Nev., have also stepped into the action. When the coronavirus hit, Christopher Bently said he was approached by government officials in Washington, D.C. and Florida about shifting production from spirits to sanitizer. “Within four days of those calls, we were producing it,” he says. “We ordered the material and got fast-tracked for the permit, to make it legally.” By early April, Bently Heritage had made 1,400 gallons of gel and spray sanitizer, delivering it in bulk containers to hospitals and first responders in counties in the South Lake Tahoe vicinity of California and Nevada. Bently Heritage is covering the cost of production, has not laid off any workers, and expects to produce 600 to 900 gallons a week, “until the need lifts,” Christopher Bently says.