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St. Albert distillery shifts to crafting hand sanitizer

Black Diamond Distillery working around the clock to fill corporate orders for essential oil hand sanitizer province-wide

St. Albert’s own Black Diamond Distillery has joined a grassroots movement of craft booze creators across Alberta helping to fill a shortage of hand sanitizer.

The two-year-old distillery has begun working around the clock running its still to produce its latest product: a 65-per-cent alcohol spray sanitizer.

While getting ready for a busy day of drop-in orders of vodka and liqueurs Thursday morning, the still gurgling in the background, co-owner David Scade said the distillery saw the shortage in hand sanitizer and “jumped on board.”

“If us running our still twice a day helps them, that's what we're going to do,” he said. So far, Black Diamond has produced 400 litres of the goods and is running its still in two shifts, double its production levels compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Initially, the distillery’s focus was producing personal-use hand sanitizer for frontline and essential service workers, but it is now seeing some “fairly sizable” corporate orders. On Thursday, Scade had 10 large pails of his lemongrass hand sanitizer ready for a large corporate pick-up.

Scade said the local distillery is filling orders across the province, including for security companies, Correctional Service Canada, local health care providers, STARS Air Ambulance and Edmonton International Airport.

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The process to create hand sanitizer is almost identical to how Black Diamond produces vodka. Rather than cutting the 90-per-cent alcohol flowing from Black Diamond’s still to 40 per cent using water, they instead cut it to slightly above CDC-recommended concentrations for hand sanitizer, at 65 per cent.

Not made for consumption, Black Diamond de-natures the sanitizer with essential oils of lemon grass, sweet orange, grapefruit, peppermint, eucalyptus and some tea tree.

“We're offering the six scents just to try and give something different than stinky alcohol, because nobody wants their hands to smell like moonshine,” Scade said.

Distillers in Calgary, Sundre, Medicine Hat and Banff have also jumped on board in switching some of their production to creating hand sanitizers.

While some distilleries are using recipes that call for glycerin or aloe Vera – products that are also becoming scarcer – Scade said Black Diamond instead uses xanthan gum, a natural product that adds a bit of a gel texture to the spray.

Demand for the hand sanitizer has been “pretty huge” and “overwhelming” Scade said, with people emailing and calling non-stop.

Rather than trying to profit off the hand sanitizer, Black Diamond is selling the personal use bottles by donation and sells wholesale at $10 per bottle or $20 per litre in bulk quantities.

“We're just trying to keep our heads above water,” Scade said. “People are really understanding with that and have been really generous with their donations.”

The distillery has been trying to maintain product for people and companies that really need it, trying to discourage people who are staying at home anyways from stocking up on their product.

The CDC identifies hand washing as the best method to remove certain types of germs but recommends using 60-per-cent alcohol hand sanitizer when soap and water is not readily available.

Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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