Bottom Line: Windsor distillery eases off liquor and makes sanitizer quicker

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 3/21/2020 8:48:01 PM
Modified: 3/21/2020 8:47:59 PM

Responding to the coronavirus epidemic, Silo Distillery is giving the traditional Russian toast — “vashe zdorovie” (“to your health”) — a new meaning.

The Windsor craft distiller of vodka and other spirits, in a move that echoes how U.S. factories overnight converted their manufacturing capacity to support the war effort during World War II, has shifted its distilling operation to make hand sanitizer for people to use so they can protect themselves against the spread of COVID-19.

Silo is offering limited amounts of its hand sanitizer free to the public. And just like alcohol, Silo is cautioning the public to be responsible when coming by the store to pick up their share.

“Legally, we kind of weren’t supposed to be doing this, but no one cares right now,” said Erin Bell, Silo’s chief distiller, on Thursday as she was getting ready to distill another batch of hand sanitizer.

The move doesn’t mean that Silo has stopped making vodka altogether, Bell explained, but the need to curtail production in light of expected falling market demand because of the pandemic also has freed up capacity for an alternate purpose.

Vodka and hand sanitizer may seem to the uninitiated about as far apart as coconuts and suntan lotion, but in fact the two products are made from a common ingredient: ethanol. Silo can produce what it says is a “65% hand solution” by combining the 180- to 190-proof ethanol it distills to make vodka with glycerin and hydrogen peroxide.

“Hand sanitizer is basically a combination of ethanol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and some other stuff to make it fragrant and thicken it,” Bell said, shortly after the Windsor Fire Department had stopped by Silo at Artisans Park on Route 5 in Windsor to fill up bottles from bulk containers in the distillery’s tasting room.

(Silo’s hand sanitizer is odorless, so it doesn’t contain a perhaps expected scent of maple syrup or Vermont pine forests).

For the most part, the operation is being run solely by Bell, a Connecticut native and 2006 graduate in English and Critical Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges who lives in Barnard and joined Silo on the marketing side in 2013 before segueing into distilling.

“We’ve gone to a bare-bones staff. Mostly everyone has gone on unemployment. Basically, it’s just me now,” Bell said.

Silo began experimenting a few weeks ago with using its Vermont-grown corn-based ethanol to make hand sanitizer to make available in the tasting room when national supplies were running low. That was followed by a request from Worthy Burger for the sanitizer that it could use for workers and customers at its restaurants in South Royalton and Woodstock, Bell said.

” ‘Alright, I’ll make you five to six gallons,’ ” Bell said she told Worthy Burger when they reached out. “All I asked is that they pay for the cost of glycerol and the containers.”

Then Bell whipped up “a big 40-gallon batch” of hand sanitizer and filled 4-ounce bottles — which she purchased online until they were no longer available — and gave them to other businesses located at Artisans Park such as Harpoon Brewery and Blake Hill Preserves, so they would have a supply on hand for their employees and customers to use.

Bell reports she has about 15 gallons left, although she is making another 65- to 70-gallon batch.

“We didn’t think this was going to be a big thing and then it turned into a big thing,” Bell said.

When those businesses began to shut down, Silo decided to make it hand sanitizer available to the general public — although some rules have been instituted to ensure fair distribution of the product and to prevent hoarding.

For example, Silo is limiting people to 16 ounces of hand sanitizer per visit and, although no purchase of Silo spirits is required, the distiller is asking for patrons to put some money in the donation box set up in the tasting room “to pay it forward.”

“Sixteen ounces goes a long way for up to four people,” Bell said, adding that on Wednesday “about 50” people came into the tasting room with bottles to fill.

Bell on Thursday morning dropped off a supply of hand sanitizer at the Windsor police station and said some area hospitals and nursing homes have even reached out with inquiries as well.

“We are going to try to keep this going for as long as we can,” Bell said.

But she advised the craft hand sanitizer likely will not continue indefinitely and will be available — only while the supply lasts.

And, by the way, “we are still selling retail spirits because if people need to stock their bar we really appreciate it,” she said.

Retail businesses curb hours

The Hanover Co-op has eliminated weekend service hours at the Co-op’s two auto centers in Hanover and Norwich, and the Co-op’s annual meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 4, will shift to an “online format,” the Co-op said.

The Norwich Bookstore has suspended retail hours “to keep as many people from coming into contact with coronavirus as possible,” co-owner Liza Bernard said in an email to the community. As of Monday there will be an employee at the store on limited hours during the week to help process orders made over the phone or online, although Bernard said “they may take a bit longer than usual as warehouses and freight carriers are impacted.”

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