Distillery Uses Potato Vodka to Produce Hand Sanitizer

Published online: Mar 23, 2020 Articles Deni Hawkins
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Source: Idaho News

Hospitals are finding an unlikely ally in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In Idaho, St. Luke's Hospital is partnering with Koenig Distillery--which is now using its supply of potato vodka to mass-produce hand sanitizer.

The high-proof alcohol is mixed with hydrogen peroxide, glycerin and water to meet FDA requirements.

The same process is taking place in several other states. When St. Luke's recognized that its existing supply would not meet an expected increase in demand in the coming weeks and months, they turned to a local distillery for help.

"We just cold-called," said St. Luke's senior director of pharmacy Scott Milner. "I said, 'hey, I've got a weird idea, and we'd like to see if we could partner with you.'"

Koenig had a supply of potato vodka on hand, and immediately halted production of other products to work toward a solution that would be not only vital, but also uniquely Idaho's.

"Who would have thought Idaho potatoes would be used in hand-sanitizer, but here we are," Koenig Distillery president Andy Koenig said. "But they asked for a big favor, and of course it was a no-brainer. We just stepped in and did what we could. Who would have thought Idaho potatoes would be used in hand-sanitizer, but here we are!"

The idea came to life in a matter of days, thanks to extreme cooperation from state, legal and hospital officials.

"This came together in record time," Koenig said.

On Saturday, a small team worked under pharmacist oversight to safely mix the ingredients and pour 650 gallons of hand sanitizer into 5-gallon buckets. They'll produce another 1,000 to 2,000 gallons early next week. That's about 6,000 bottles (although bottle sizes will vary).

St. Luke's will then distribute the sanitizer to its hospitals and facilities around the state, depending on where the need is greatest. The heath system says these early efforts should be enough to help keep their supply strong until sometime in May.

"I'm inspired that we have people working to find a solution on a problem we didn't know we were going to have," Milner said. "I'm just impressed with the how fast things are moving. Everyone responded way faster [on this] than anything I've ever seen in a large system or with the state. At the same time we're checking the boxes to make sure we're not doing something that's going to give someone exposed. We're making sure we're still doing things legally."

Beyond this week, St. Luke's and Koenig both say they'll look to continue the process.

For Koenig, it's a repurposing of industry with a much bigger purpose.

"It's great to see that when chips are down in Idaho, people step up to the plate," he said. "It's a humbling experience but it's also great to be able to give back to the community which has given us so much over the last 20 years that we've been open, they've supported our brands forever. This is a way for us to pay them back a little bit."