Three Rivers Brewery producing hand sanitizer for public safety, home health care workers
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Distilling equipment being used for different purpose
FARMINGTON — Even with demand for its traditional products — craft beer and small-batch liquor — reduced sharply, the Three Rivers Brewery has developed a new item that people can't seem to get enough of in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Late last week, the brewery's distiller and head brewer Patrick Liessmann began producing 30-gallon batches of hand sanitizer to give to local public safety workers and health care workers.
General manager Dave Dailey said production of the entire batch was funded by a $500 donation by Perry Webb, president of Webb Chevrolet, and the sanitizer was provided in 5-gallon buckets to such entities as the Farmington Police Department, the Farmington Fire Department, the San Juan County Sheriff's Department, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management and home health care providers.
"I didn't realize the dire need in this area (for hand sanitizer)," Dailey said of the reaction the production of the product has created. He said he has been deluged with phone calls from representatives of other agencies and from members of the public inquiring about its availability.
The brewery is not selling the sanitizer, Dailey emphasized, explaining that it is being produced as a public service for the neediest entities.
Liessmann said the idea of producing the sanitizer came up during a brewery staff meeting after some employees noticed that other distilleries in New Mexico and across the country were using their equipment to address the shortage of sanitizer. Liessmann said it was an easy adjustment to start using the equipment to produce sanitizer instead of vodka, whiskey or bourbon.
"It's pretty much the same process as any other distilled spirit," he said.
Liessmann said he contacted a fellow member of the New Mexico Distillers Guild for advice and already had a batch of 180-proof vodka on hand that he was able to convert into the first batch of sanitizer.
"Patrick is amazing," Dailey said. "He followed the guidelines (for making sanitizer) from the World Health Organization and was able to knock it out."
Liessmann began work on the second batch, which has been funded by a donation from Todd Charles, owner of Farmington's CPR Cell Phone Repair, on March 23. He said it would be a minimum of two weeks before that sanitizer is ready, as distilling is a time-consuming process that can't be rushed.
"We're trying to figure out how to produce more of it and make it economically feasible while we're shut down," Liessmann said.
Although the focus is on providing a badly needed product as quickly as possible, Liessmann said he has taken steps to put a Three Rivers stamp on the sanitizer, adding orange and cinnamon extract to it to give it a pleasant aroma, as well as blue dye to make it more visually appealing.
Brewery owner John Silva said the first batch of sanitizer did not have a thickening agent in it, but he has ordered some and hopes to have it available for the second batch.
Silva also has ordered 885 bottles so the sanitizer can be split up into individual portions, but he doesn't know when they'll arrive.
Dailey said the lack of bottles is a major problem for the brewery.
"We are in a bottle crisis," he said.
He encouraged other parties who might be interested in contributing to the effort to reach out to him, and he thanked Webb and Charles for what they have done.
Silva acknowledged those donations, as well, and noted the team-building aspect of the production effort during the outbreak.
"This is an awful deal, as we all know," he said. "We're all in it together."
Silva emphasized that anyone who is interested in helping with the effort or who is inquiring about the availability of sanitizer should contact Dailey at his brewery email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and not reach out to him via the brewery's phone number, which is being used for take-out food orders. The brewery has reduced its staffing to a skeletal level because of the decline in business, and he said handling the volume of phone calls about the hand sanitizer has been a challenge for the employees who remain on duty.
Liessmann laughed when he was asked if he ever envisioned himself in a position where he would be manufacturing hand sanitizer.
"No, not at all," he said. "I've been the head brewer for the last couple of years and took over the distiller last year. I would prefer to just make beer and whiskey, but here we are. I'm just happy to have something to do right now. We really love our community and we love Farmington, and we love the donations that have been coming in allowing us to do this."
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Dailey said the frustration of seeing the brewery's operations largely shut down during the coronavirus outbreak has been partially offset by the satisfaction of being able to do something helpful during the crisis.
"This feels good," he said. "It's such an interesting feeling all the way around."
At this point, the brewery cannot produce enough sanitizer to meet the demands of those who need it most, much less begin to manufacture it for customers, he said. But if he could figure out a way to do that, Dailey said he would be all for it.
"My heart would want to make as much to get everybody in San Juan County taken care of," he said.
Silva knows that isn't likely to happen, but he said his business would continue to maximize its efforts.
"We're trying to help in any way we can," he said.
Mike Easterling can be reached via email at email@example.com