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MENDOCINO Co., 3/28/20 — “I wanted to respond to the national crisis,” explained Crispin Cain, president of Tamar Distillery, Inc.,“the need is so immediate.” Cain has been a distiller for decades, and leads the process at Tamar Distillery, a beloved Redwood Valley outlet internationally renowned for its whiskies and other small batch distillations.
Switching from the gin bottling he was doing a few weeks ago, Cain is now delivering industrial grade alcohol, essential for sanitizing medical facilities, nursing homes, and other places at high risk for transmission for the novel coronavirus, through an online platform developed to connect distillers with medical providers. He made his first delivery to a nursing home in Sebastopol this week.
Tamar Distilleries is considered an essential business, but Cain wanted to help. “And it turns out here we have been really essential,” he said. Around the country, items like hand sanitizer and wipes have been been in increasingly short supply across the country and around the North Bay over the last several weeks, and distilleries nationwide have sought to help fill the need for sanitizing supplies — and federal authorities have issued a blanket permission for businesses to make the switch. But when Cain tried to join that effort, he found that most of the supplies needed to produce hand sanitizer, such as bulk aloe and empty bottles, had been purchased by other distilleries.*
He was then approached by a business contact, Miles Pepper, who was concerned about the lack of disinfectant alcohol available for places helping more vulnerable people stay safe during the pandemic, such as Serenity Villa, the assisted-living facility in Sebastopol where Pepper’s grandmother was staying — and Cain did have on hand a bulk quantity of 73.3% ethanol that he’d purchased to make a batch of gin — which he is now making availale as a disinfectant for medical facilities and nursing homes around the region.
Pepper, Cain, and others have established an online platform, disinfectconnect.com, lining up distilleries with sanitizing alcohol with medical and elder care facilities that need it, and Cain is seeking out more materials and organizations that need help. Although things have moved quickly, it hasn’t been a simple path, since the activity doesn’t fall under the same permit regulations allowing the production of hand sanitizer. Instead, he has now sought permission to sell the ethanol, which he was previously only permitted to sell as a wholesale producer of distilled spirits, directly to specific organizations, and has contacted Senator Feinstein’s office, Congressman Huffman’s office, and the federal Tobacco, Tax, and Trade Bureau to get assurances it will be allowable. Both ethynol and isopropyl alcohol can be used as sanitizing alcohols, but the substance is typically denatured, and Cain was only authorized to use it in the production of gin and other beverage alcohols.
Supplies of ethanol remain limited, and Cain is on the hunt to buy more, although he is preparing to bottle, label, and distribute what he has on hand. “Normally I could purchase tanker trucks full” of ethanol, he explained, adding the supplier he’d contacted recently had yet to call back. The first delivery, to Serenity Village, however, successfully occurred this week, and the Flow Cannabis Institute, which owns the property where Tamar Distillery sits, has volunteered to provide labelling.
In the meantime, Cain says he still has pallets of gin and whiskey left to bottle, but that sales have significantly dried up in the last few weeks — although he is still receiving small orders from a few retailers and online suppliers. The distillery often participates in local non-profit events and donates to fundraising efforts, and to keep that support going to the community, Cain is offering donations of the sanitizing alcohol to local nonprofits. Most immediately, he is focused on finding materials to be able supply for sanitation supplies to those that need it.
Medical facilities, nursing homes, and other similar organizations can reach out through the disinfectconnect.com website, or if local, contact Cain directly at 707-485-2491.
Tamar Distillery’s beverages are available at Harvest Market in Fort Bragg, Redwood Valley Market, Craft Distillers in Ukiah, Point Arena Liquor, Little River Market, Park& Shop in Laytonville, Village Market in Willits, and through online ordering such as caddellwilliams.com.
*Editor’s note: another Mendocino County distillery, Charbay, recently announced they are producing hand sanitizer; more information available here.