Nationwide Shortage Of Hand Sanitizer Led To Unlikely Customers For Milwaukee Distillery

May 13, 2020

There’s a nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer. Since the coronavirus pandemic began to escalate in March, suppliers have had difficulty keeping up with the intense demand.

But some distilleries, like Twisted Path Distillery in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, have come to the rescue. Brian Sammons is the founder and distiller at Twisted Path. Without the same amount of wholesale demand for his liquors, he says he’s been left with more time to make hand sanitizer for groups in need, like hospitals and police departments.

"I anticipated a little bit of a run on hand sanitizer right when this first got announced, but that the mass-scale producers would catch up right away and that the shelves would be filled again two weeks later. And that didn’t happen at all," says Sammons. 

"I was at the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11 on the Bin Laden team, so it kind of reminded me slightly of that, where it's just running around like crazy and getting things done as fast as possible."

Some surprising organizations have reached out to Sammons' distillery looking for a supply of hand sanitizer, including the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and the Army Medical Corps. Part of the reason that distillers have stepped into this void is because of their access to high-proof alcohol, but also their ability to bottle flammable liquids. Sammons says there's a lot of regulatory bureaucracy at different levels, which he thought would have been eased in light of the pandemic. 

"I kind of thought that the federal government would pretty quickly make this all easier and I think some individuals in the government are trying to make it easier, but from the top down it hasn't been organized. So, it's actually ended up making it quite a bit harder because it's constantly changing," he explains.

Sammons has his own insight into how the federal government operates. In a previous career, he worked with the CIA, an experience he compares to his work now: prioritizing which companies are most in need of hand sanitizer during this shortage and making the supplies to meet those needs. 

"I was at the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11 on the Bin Laden team, so it kind of reminded me slightly of that, where it's just running around like crazy and getting things done as fast as possible in a bit of a triage mode. I didn't expect that in the distillery business," he says. 

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