Over the past month or so we have watched distilleries worldwide pivot from producing drinking alcohol to hand sanitiser. But this is not the first time in history that we have seen distilleries shift their production.
During WW2, distilleries across the globe were requisitioned to make high proof alcohol to assist in the production of products as varied as ammunition, synthetic rubber, anti-freeze, antiseptic and other medical needs as well.
Although we are not in a time of war, as such, the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) in Australia has provided distillers with an approval-waiver and a prescribed recipe to follow, so they can transition to making the hand sanitiser need to meet national demand.
Mr Black Founder, Tom Baker, says the brand has been overwhelmed by requests for hand sanitiser from both the local community and afar. “In the background we have been busy supplying our local pharmacies and healthcare providers with alcohol, to assist in helping those that need it most,” he says.
In fact, the brand has donated hundreds of litres of sanitiser to community organisations across the country. “Thankfully a lot of people have purchased a bottle of Mr Black with their hand sanitiser, which allows us to get the hand sanitiser to whoever needs it without having to filter too much,” he said.
Marty Williams, head of marketing at Mr Black, points out that people have been calling and turning up at Distillery Botanica non-stop. “The direct demand is something we’ve never seen before. It dwarfs our biggest product launches, and we’re not the only distillery to experience this”.
Of course, for many distilleries, the logistics of the transition have been one of the main issues. Not only does the production of hand sanitiser need different techniques and skillsets than most distillers are used to but it also requirers ingredients that most distillers have never worked with or even ordered before.
“It’s been astonishing how quickly our production & operations team has been able to adapt and pivot,” says Williams. “Fortunately our Head of Coffee, Dr Detlef Mohr, has a PhD in chemistry – and he’s been a crucial resource on this project.
Baker expanded on that point saying “It’s very helpful having a chemist on the team at the best of times – let alone when you have to transition to producing products for medical use. As you might imaging, many of the raw ingredients come in a variety of formulations, concentrations and for different purposes. Detlef was able to make sure the products we were sourcing were fit for purpose, and we weren’t creating something that wasn’t up to standard”.
“Truth told, it was one of the easiest new products we’ve developed,” Baker said. “It was really just working out what the guidelines covered, producing the product and getting it to those who needed it most. If you do things properly, do them the right way, with integrity, it takes time. Good things don’t happen by accident. “
Although Mr Black has, like many distilleries, encountered supply constraints, the brand says that by moving early, they were able to secure sufficient raw material to cover them for a month or so and service the market at peak demand.
Continuing to produce both hand sanitiser and Mr Black has meant that the brand has been able to provide employment to 35+ humans that work for Mr Black and Distillery Botanica, not to mention their suppliers and partners around the country.
“Someone told me once “you’ll be remembered by how you act in a crisis”,” said Baker, “and just like with the bushfires, we’ve done a tremendous job if I do say so. We’ve looked after our staff, our business, our community, and the wider public. As close to a win-win as you can get with a company our size”.
The brand has used the same bottles as they would for the Mr Black liqueur and their ‘automated machine’ fills precisely four bottles at a time, with labelling and closure done by hand. It is the same for every single bottle of Mr Black made at Distillery Botanica.
The brand has had 10 people working full time, six days a week on exclusively on the hand sanitiser for the past three weeks but as Baker points out, it’s adaptability that gets the job done in the end.
“We’re good at this stuff – this is where we do our best work. We’re a small, focussed company that gets stuff done and get it out the door. We work quickly, and to be honest the hustle for this was not that different.
“Charles Darwin is often misquoted as saying something along the lines of “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Google tells me Darwin didn’t actually say that, but I think the sentiment is right.”