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A regional distiller of award-winning spirits with a wildly popular Upper County presence has stepped up in the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Heritage Distilling Co. has begun production of hand and surface sanitizer at its flagship distillery in Gig Harbor. According to a press release, the company plans to produce 15,000 gallons a month of the product, which began selling at their tasting room locations this weekend. The 80% alcohol product also will be offered to healthcare facilities and nonprofit organizations as production ramps up.

Although the supply is limited in the initial rollout, the 750 ml. bottles will sell for $15 in the tasting rooms, with plans to produce different sized bottles in the future. Special pricing will apply for first responders, healthcare workers, tribal members, postal workers, grocery store and delivery employees who show valid identification.

“Working to protect our communities is our No. 1 focus right now,” HDC CEO Justin Stiefel said in the release. “Our team is working around the clock to make the product, and if we sell out on any particular day, we will be working to restock the product.”

GETTING PRODUCT OUT TO THE COMMUNITY

HDC Roslyn General Manager Beth Marker ventured over to the company’s Gig Harbor distillery Friday to pick up her first batch of the product and made it back 15 minutes before the tasting closed.

“We had customers waiting,” she said. “We were able to help some of the customers that day.”

The first batch to arrive in Roslyn consisted of nine cases, or 108, 750 ml. bottles. Marker also brought back some in bulk to dispense from taps in the tasting room. In all, she started with approximately 90 gallons.

As witnessed with the customers waiting for her when she returned from the West Side on Friday, word had circulated on the company’s social media sites and their its communications network that the product would be available. As a result, all nine cases had been sold by 1 p.m. Sunday. Although the tasting room still has the product on tap, they are limiting it to 8 ounce fills for customers who purchase $15 of other items in the tasting room. Customers are also encouraged to bring their own container for the sanitizer off the tap, as the tasting room had run out of them by Sunday.

Marker hopes to travel back to Gig Harbor to procure more sanitizer today and said for now that will be the main method of getting it to Roslyn. Due to the hazardous nature of producing the product, she said that the decision from the company was to centralize production at their Gig Harbor location, which is its main distillery.

“This isn’t like making spirits,” she said. “Distilleries in Washington were licensed by the governor to do this through the end of June because we basically have the equipment and the staff that know how to handle high-proof alcohol.”

Once production ramps up, however, Marker said it is logistically possible for the Gig Harbor distillery to send Roslyn product in bulk for final bottling at the Roslyn location. She said this can help cut down on the manpower needed on the West Side to finish the product and get it on the shelves in Roslyn.

“It’ll allow me to not run out, and it’ll take some pressure off their bottling line and allow us to keep in stock better here for Central and Eastern Washington,” she said. “Our goal first and foremost is to not run out for whoever needs to come in and acquire product.”

One tool the company is using in the fight to keep their shelves stocked of the product going down the road is to control sales to prohibit hoarding. Marker said customers must provide the last four digits of their driver’s license number when purchasing the product and are limited to two bottles per person per day.

“We’re managing that internally to ensure customers are purchasing responsibly,” she said.

Marker is also referring to the Roslyn location currently as a “retail room”, because the current ban on restaurants and bars extends to the normal function of the location. Although the location is open during normal business hours, only 10 customers can be in the room at a time and can only purchase products to go.

“They cannot taste,” she said.

Although the ban on having tasting events at the location has resulted in the cutback on employee numbers, Marker said the production of hand and surface sanitizer has given the company a new sense of purpose during the pandemic. Prior to the rollout of the sanitizer product, she said the company had already worked out the logistics to provide curbside pickup and delivery of HDC products. The delivery component is relatively new and has seen limited interest in its infancy. The service is currently limited to Upper County zip codes, but Marker said if it gains traction, they will consider expanding it to the Ellensburg area. Cultivating new methods of doing business during the era of social distancing is one way Marker sees as a pathway to keep her employees on the clock.

“My hope is that I can bring several people back, especially if we’re able to do some finishing production on the product, or our delivery piece picks up to the point where I can have people on the road all day taking orders to people,” she said.

As the first batch sold out, Marker said she saw both regulars and people visiting the tasting room for the first time, all with the collective interest in keeping their homes and workplaces safe in the face of the pandemic. She said the transition to producing an entirely new product outside the normal realm of the company’s offerings is entirely in line with the company’s mission to continue to innovate and support its customer’s needs.

“It’s not an easy pivot for us,” she said. “But it’s something we can facilitate. Maybe we’ll keep selling this, who knows what the future will bring.”

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