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With hand sanitizer in short supply for those on the frontlines of the local COVID-19 battle, Weldon Mills Distillery has reserved a quarter of its production capacity to make the product.

The distillery located at River Falls Park is not selling the product, owner Bruce Tyler said.

Instead, the company is donating the sanitizer to the Halifax County Public Health System, which is turning it over to Emergency Management Coordinator Buddy Wrenn for distribution.

The first batch produced was about 65 gallons, Tyler said Wednesday. Today, 55 gallons will be delivered to the health department.

As the company makes hand sanitizer, it is also continuing its bourbon production, which started in December after Weldon Mills received its federal license the previous month. “January was our first full month of production. We have produced about 1,400 gallons.”

The bourbon is currently aging and the first run will be ready at the end of June with the unveiling of Soldier’s Cut, in which a percentage of sales will be donated to Gold Star Families. 

As the bourbon ages, the new batch of hand sanitizer was also being made. 

Many distilleries across the state and nation are producing hand sanitizer as the novel coronavirus continues its spread.

“As a company, we have a responsibility to be a part of our community,” Tyler said. “We are doing as much as we can without it being detrimental to our business.”

As the pandemic began to spread, the distillery watched as sanitizer became a limited product. “There weren't a lot of resources in fire departments, police departments, and health departments to meet the current demands.”

The sanitizer is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration as well as the federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is an arm of the United States Treasury Department. “We make bourbon,” Tyler said. “The FDA provided a recipe.”

Laura Strickland, a pharmacist at Nash General, provided the technical knowledge on how to convert the amount of product the distillery had for the mix and supervised the mixing process of the sanitizer as well, he said.

The 80 percent volume by volume hand sanitizer made from the bourbon distillate in the Weldon Mills bourbon is well above the required 60 percent volume by volume needed to kill COVID.

Because bourbon distillate is lower than isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera was not added so the only fragrance, Tyler said, is that of moonshine.

Halifax County Public Health System Director Bruce Robistow said of the effort, “What he’s doing is giving a necessary supply to an entity that understands the needs. It’s the desire of people to help their neighbors and their communities and using ingenuity to do it.”

Wrenn said the hand sanitizer has gone out to law enforcement, public works, the department of social services, which is mandated to continue home visits, fire departments and law enforcement across the county as well as neighboring counties. “Without it, we’d have folks who would go without and would definitely be exposed to pathogens. It’s an essential service. A lot of first responders don’t have immediate access to soap and water.”

Roanoke Rapids Public Works Director Larry Chalker said the city’s portion was distributed through Wrenn. “We appreciate them retooling to provide hand sanitizer.”

It was always in the plans to find ways to give back to a community which welcomed Tyler and his business partner Michael Hinderliter when the project was first discussed, Tyler said. “When we first started looking into different sites, the community as a whole took us in and local government has taken us in. It feels good to both Michael and I in a small way we return that and help out in a time of need to help a community that took us in.”