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Spirited hand sanitizer, for free

Kim Jennings

Mar 26, 2020

Telluride Distillery, Sunshine Pharmacy collaborate

As precious as the ore that once drew prospectors to the Telluride valley, a team of local entrepreneurs has collaborated to create an equally valuable commodity these days — hand sanitizer.

In a matter of days, panic buying in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying shelter in place orders, emptied stores of items such as toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Though distribution chains are slowly catching up to the unprecedented demand for those coveted items, there is still a dearth of certain essentials that public health officials recommend be kept on hand. Hand sanitizer, especially is hard to come by.

As have many distilleries all over the country, Telluride Distilling Company owner, Abbott Smith, knew he had one of the raw materials — alcohol — that is used in hand sanitizers. His Telluride Vodka is high proof and plentiful, and he had a quantity of gin rendered unusable in the distilling process that would also be a perfect addition to hand sanitizer.

But how to make it?

Stephen and Karyn Hemphill, co-owners of Sunshine Pharmacy in Telluride (where Karyn is the pharmacist) and Sunshine Store in Mountain Village, were also mulling the hand sanitizer shortage. Even they couldn’t get it, if only to keep employees and customers safe, much less to sell to the general public. They started researching recipes for in-store use.

The pharmacy, Stephen said, saw unprecedented business in the early part of the shelter in home orders, as people rushed to make sure they would have a sufficient supply of meds for the long, stay-at-home haul.

“We’ve been extra busy,” Stephen said. “It’s been kind of crazy. This time last year, we had about 250 calls a day. We had 600 calls a day last week.”

The Hemphills had access to a recipe released by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), as well as one approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Karyn, unable to procure rubbing alcohol, using instead, Everclear grain alcohol, was compounding enough for use in the pharmacy, but the Hemphills realized they were too busy to generate the stuff in larger quantities. They reached out to their Mountain Village business neighbor, Smith, whose Telluride Distillery Tasting Room is across the way from Sunshine Store.

Smith’s wife, Joanne, is a chemist, and also brought her skills into the equation to perfect a WHO-approved mixture of alcohol, vegetable glycerin and hydrogen peroxide (donate by the pharmacy) to create a hand sanitizer that will be available today (Friday) free to the public at select locations. It truly took a village.

“They’ve done great work,” Smith said of the Hemphills.

Hemphill humbly deflects his and Karyn’s role in making hand sanitizer a reality.

“Abbott made it happen,” he said. “We’re excited for the community.”

At the distillery, Smith is happy to keep his employees there, Dustin Clements and Colin Baccus, busy.

The vegetable glycerine, Smith explained, is palm-fruit based and will provide a moisturizing effect to his concoction, which he said, “is huge,” given how often people use it to protect themselves against coronavirus infection. The virus-killing properties come from the hydrogen peroxide supplied by the Hemphills. And, instead of finding its way into a crisp vodka martini or an aromatic gin and tonic, Smith’s excess hooch bolsters the medicinal properties of the sanitizer. The gin is an especially nice touch, Smith said.

“We’re adding unusable alcohol from the gin batch,” he said. “Some oils come over in the distilling process,” which normally, would be disposed of. The juniper and lavender essences will give the hand sanitizer a pleasing aroma, he said.

The sanitizer will come in 200 ml recyclable bottles, but will not have spray or pump tops. Those, he said, would not be available until June.

As of today, (Friday) Smith will distribute the product at his Mountain Village tasting room (through the breezeway off Heritage Plaza on the way to the Telluride Conference Center) and at the pharmacy, where Hemphill said it would be given it to customers picking up prescriptions. Also on Friday, Smith reopen the tasting room in Mountain Village for to-go orders of cocktails or bottles of his whisky, vodka, gin and other spirits. When he asked his tasting room employees if they wanted to reopen, he said he was met with enthusiasm.

“We’re taking a big hit like everyone else,” Smith said. “We’ll hand out sanitizer for free there, too, just tip your bartender.”

Customers can just knock on the door, place their order, and tasting room staff will bring it outside. Or call ahead at 970-728-2910 and staff will prepare your order. Tasting room hours will be from 2-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Only credit cards will be accepted and proof of age ID is required, as always. There is a one bottle per person limit on hand sanitizer, as quantities are limited.

In addition to hand sanitizer, the distillery has also supplied SMART and Mountain Village transit officials with a disinfectant spray for the buses, which run between Telluride and Mountain Village.

“They didn’t want to ruin their seats with a bleach solution and reached out to me,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘I can do that. I have the resources.”

“We’re still working out butt off to keep people safe and employed,” Smith said. “This is one thing we can give back to the community.”

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