Alumnus bottling help, hand sanitizer for fight

Geoff Dillon, Dillon's Small Batch Distillers

Special to Western NewsIn fewer than two weeks, Geoff Dillon, BSc’10 (Biology and Economics), and his team transitioned Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers of Beamsville, Ont., from producing vodka and gin to hand sanitizer for front-line workers in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor’s note: Visit the official WesternCOVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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The need wasn’t going way – so Geoff Dillon decided to see what he could do.

For weeks, hand sanitizer has been in high demand as COVID-19 fears escalated: Store shelves cleaned out. Hoarders and profiteers outed and shamed. Homebrew recipes popping up over the Internet.

While an inconvenience for customers, the scarcity of hand sanitizer, however, is putting lives at risk, as health-care providers and first responders depend on its use.

“We were aware there was beginning to be a need – people didn’t have any,” said Dillon, owner of Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville, Ont. “Hand sanitizer is made with high-proof alcohol. We thought, ‘Let’s see what we can do. We have a building full of alcohol – let’s do a little bit.’”

On March 13, Dillon, BSc’10 (Biology and Economics), and his team produced their first batch of hand sanitizer.

By the next day, word had spread. Phones calls and emails started coming in from nurses, doctors, emergency workers and others saying that stocks were depleted and asking if he had any to spare.

“On Saturday, I came in and made another batch, maybe 1,000 bottles. Then on Sunday, I came back and we made another 2,000. By Monday, we had gone through more than 3,500 little 30 ml bottles,” he said.

Dillon felt he had to ramp – and size – things up. It was then he decided to convert his bottling line.

“We have three stills. All we make most of the day is high-proof alcohol that turns into vodka and gin,” he explained. “We said, ‘Let’s do full-size 750ml bottles of sanitizer, crank them out and start giving them to essential services free of charge.’”

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This has been a wild ride. Since Tuesday’s post we have had thousands of emails, phone calls, messages from every form of front line worker from all across the province. Hospitals, homeless shelters, EMS, police, fire, nursing homes, dr.’s offices, friends, new friends, family and so many more. We have shed more than a few tears here hearing the stories and are trying our absolute best to help. More than 5,000 bottles have gone to keep these people at least somewhat safer in what they do. Currently we have exhausted stockpiles of aloe for hand sanitizer but we have scaled up our disinfectant with the unbelievable generosity of some of our industry friends donations of bottles, caps and alcohol @vinelandestates @andrewpellerimports @tawsewinery @timmydwilson We have more and are continuing for essential services. If we haven’t gotten back to you we are sorry. If you are an essential service and need a disinfectant please email us (info@dillons.ca) and we will schedule a pick up. All phone lines have been tied up for two days and there’s nobody left to answer them. We are exhausted but are doing our best and will continue. We have received thousands of messages of support (which also made us cry) so thank you to every one of you for pushing us to keep going. Once again, we have not, are not and will not charge for this. If you’d like to support us, buying our spirits from our online store or lcbo really makes a difference to a small company like us. This is non-potable and made to be used as a disinfectant for surfaces. You can not drink this. It can be used in a spray bottle on hands (no moisturizing aloe though so may want to moisturizer afterwards), tables, keyboards, ambulances, any surface.

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They have been producing the denatured product since – and the world is noticing.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford singled out the work of Dillon and his staff. They even earned a shout-out from rock band Pearl Jam on their Instagram account. “I may have peaked with that.”

While the acknowledgements are nice, there’s no time to stop, he continued.

“The community has really come together,” Dillon explained. Having exhausted his supply of 750 ml bottles, 10 wineries have donated their extra bottles and caps, as well as 60,000 liters of wine that can converted to sanitizer.

Thus far, Dillon’s has produced and shipped 3,500 mini-bottles and more than 15,000 750 ml bottles, with another 10,000 in production. They have shipped as far as Kingston and Ottawa, with free shipping provided by Volkswagen Canada and Beatties, a local Brantford business products store.

“It’s been crazy with all the support out there,” Dillon said, nodding to more than 50 craft distilleries across the country shifting production to sanitizer.

“We are pumping as fast as we can,” he said, adding demand is going away any time soon. “We’re all unbelievably tired, working late into the day, but it feels good knowing we’re doing something positive for the people who are working even harder and who really need what we are producing.”

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NEED HELP? CAN HELP? Health-care workers and first responders in need of sanitizer, or organizations who can help in production through donations, can contact Dillon’s at help@dillons.ca.