John Emerald

Jill Sanderson, right, fills a container with sanitation spray for Radhika Patel. John Emerald Distilling Company is making sanitation products for the community due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

John Emerald Distilling Co. is finding a way to serve the community more than just hard alcohol.

The Opelika alcohol distillery is providing local businesses sanitation products and will begin providing the rest of the community with a hot commodity — hand sanitizer — Thursday.

“We’re in a unique position that we have a base alcohol that’s 190 proof,” said Jimmy Sharp, owner and head distiller “We thought it was a great idea and we wanted to jump. Good ideas are there for stealing so we said let’s do it.”

Numerous distilleries nationwide are making sanitation products because of the shortage in local stores. The idea for John Emerald to begin making these products came from two businesses, Acre and the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau.

“I saw where another distillery in North Carolina was doing it,” said Robyn Bridges, tourism bureau vice president. “I heard from one of our restaurants that they were in need, and so I thought if some other distillery can do it, then I don’t see why ours can’t either.”

Bridges and Acre restaurant owner David Bancroft approached Sharp about making these products. He was on board but had to make sure the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was OK with it.

“I assumed I’d be told I couldn’t do it from ABC ’cause of legality and stuff,” he said. “I reached out to ABC and they were super gracious and like ‘Heck yeah, you’re in the clear.’ Do what you got to do.”

ResearchLuckily for Sharp and his team, there was plenty of research out there because other distilleries throughout the country have been sharing their tips.

“We’ve been doing research for the past week or so, a little bit more than that,” said Jill Sanderson, distillery manager.

Making sanitizer isn’t the norm for John Emerald; there were a lot of things to learn along the way.

“I tried a couple things and mainly just the CDC has recommendations,” Sharp said. “Luckily, a lot of people are doing the same thing and sharing their information out there so it was a lot of good stuff.”

He found that using ethanol, the type of alcohol that’s in beverages, would be the best form of alcohol to use in the sanitizer.

“Some people at other distilleries are doing it with their waste product,” Sharp said. “I was a little apprehensive to use those. The ethanol is much better than the alcohol junk.”

He learned that he needed a soap product, glycerin, in order to make the hand sanitizer. Bridges stepped in to help with providing the glycerin needed since John Emerald Co. already had the alcohol.

“The glycerin is expensive,” she said. “In order for John Emerald to not have to cover the cost of that and still be able to do the product … we want to offset the cost of the glycerin to make sure that they don’t incur any more cost.”

The productsJohn Emerald Co. is making two products, a sanitizer spray for the hospitality industry and a hand sanitizer for the community.

The spray is made to kill viruses on surfaces where a lot of hands come in contact.

“This spray is such a high amount of alcohol, about 150 proof, and then we add highly filtered water to that,” Sanderson said. “What you do with this spray is that you spray it on the surfaces and then let it dry and so the alcohol evaporates and therefore kills the virus.”

The hand sanitizer is a little different, she said, mostly because of the addition of glycerin.

“You just mix the two (alcohol and glycerin) together,” Sanderson said.

The spray is being provided to hospitality partners for free during this time in order to help keep surfaces clean.

Information about how to participate can be found on the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau’s website.

The hand sanitizer is free to the public beginning today, Sharp said. However, those who wish to get some must bring their own container due to the unavailability of plastic containers on the market.

“We’re going to be asking people to bring a 10 oz. or lower vessel,” he said. “So, if you’ve got a cleaned out hand soap pump or something like that, we’ll fill it for you with hand sanitizer.”

Although the sanitizer is free, donations are being accepted. All donations will be given to the local food bank.

“They’re working so hard to kids who are out of school and whatever families may find themselves in need if this crisis continues,” Bridges said.

Sharp hopes to continue to give out the products as long as he can.

“I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, but we’re going to find out,” he said. “We’re going to give out as much as we can anyways.”

John Emerald Co. will be posting updates to its social media platforms about product availability.

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