Local distilleries to produce hand sanitizer 

Montis Distilling will donate proceeds to Whistler Community Services Society

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRANDON BARRETT - Kwang Chen, left, with wife Bryanna and son Colin at the site of their distillery, Montis Distilling, in Function Junction.
  • Kwang Chen, left, with wife Bryanna and son Colin at the site of their distillery, Montis Distilling, in Function Junction.

The owners of Function Junction's Montis Distilling didn't anticipate that they'd be making hand sanitizer when they opened for business in June of last year.

The plan, rather, was to focus on the vodka and gin that the start-up is known for.

But given our new reality—namely, the COVID-19 pandemic that's ground the country to a halt—they've decided to switch it up. "We're probably going to produce 15 to 20 gallons for our first batch [of hand sanitizer], and then we'll see where it goes from there," explained Kwang Chen, who runs the distillery with his wife, Bryanna.

The couple is currently awaiting one product to make the hand sanitizer, which they expect will arrive later this week.

They will not charge for the hand sanitizer, but will accept donations, with the money likely going to Whistler Community Services Society—an important lifeline for those most affected by the current crisis.

(Kwang added that there is no requirement to donate—the couple recognizes the "struggle" that many now find themselves in.)

In Pemberton, Tyler Schramm of Pemberton Distilling Inc. said the company has been producing hand sanitizer for the past seven days and is focused largely on supplying businesses and government.

"The World Health Organization has a recipe that they put out for small-scale production of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and that's the recipe that most of the craft distilleries are using," said Schramm.

"It is 80 per cent alcohol, so it's stronger than most of the store bought hand sanitizers.

According to Schramm—who runs the company with his brother, Jake—the demand has been extraordinary so far.

Small distilleries are having an easier time producing hand sanitizer thanks to recent changes in legislation brought in by the province.

On March 22, it sent out a release explaining that it has temporarily authorized distilleries to manufacture the product through an updated policy directive from the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB).

Previously, distilleries and other licensed manufacturing establishments would have required discretionary authorization from the general manager of LCRB to produce it.

While this change is welcome, Schramm, who serves secretary general for the Craft Distillers Guild of British Columbia, said that he is also looking to the federal government to come through with a clear directive saying that they won't charge an excise tax on the alcohol that distilleries use to make the hand sanitizer.

If you are looking to get your hands on some Montis Distilling hand sanitizer, Kwang said it's best to follow the company on social media (Montis Distlling on Facebook and @montisdistlling on Instagram) or email them (montis@montisdistilling.com).

They are finalizing how they will distribute the product, with the plan being to have people bring refillable bottles to the distillery this weekend. Pick up will have to be coordinated, so as to adhere to social distancing requirements, explained Kwang.

He added it feels good to be able to give back to the community, given the major crisis it is now facing.

"We're not medical doctors, and we're not going to be able to help people get better," said Kwang. "But if we can do this—we'll do this."


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