Alumnus-owned distillery provides sanitizer to Centre County first responders

April 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the co-owner of Big Spring Spirits, a craft distillery in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, Penn State alumnus Kevin Lloyd’s product lineup typically includes such beverages as rum, whiskey and gin. However, in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the distillery has added a new bottle to the shelf: hand sanitizer.

With hand sanitizer becoming increasingly difficult to purchase for the general public and healthcare workers, alike, a growing number of distilleries like Big Spring Spirits are shifting their productions to focus on turning ethanol into sanitizer.

Since mid-March, the distillery has produced 600 one-liter bottles of sanitizer (dubbed “Ain’t Got No Sink Hand Sanitizer”), all of which have been donated to the Centre County Emergency Management Agency.

From spirits to sanitizer

According to Lloyd, a 1987 graduate with a degree in molecular and cell biology, producing hand sanitizer was not only a natural fit for the skills he learned while at Penn State, but also a natural fit for Big Spring Spirits.

In March, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) released guidelines for distilleries nationwide to produce sanitizer according to a formula from the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO formula relies on a mixture of ethanol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide.

“I saw some other distilleries doing this in Washington state, and that got me thinking,” Lloyd said. “As the regulatory agencies like the TBB and the Food and Drug Administration started releasing guidelines for distilleries to produce sanitizer, it became pretty obvious to me that this was a natural way we could help out.”

To develop the sanitizer, Lloyd worked with Philip Jensen, Big Spring Spirits’ head distiller and a researcher in Penn State’s Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. Because the sanitizer doesn’t include ingredients like aloe that are commonly found in over-the-counter products, the result is a much thinner, more liquid-based product.

A split image showing a bottle of sanitizer being filled on the left and a label being placed on a bottle on the right
IMAGE: Courtesy of Kate Kenealy

According to Lloyd, one batch takes about two weeks to produce.

“We start with high-fructose corn syrup, which we ferment over about a week to make the alcohol,” Lloyd said. “We then distill it up to high proof and denature it to make it undrinkable. Finally, we add the additional ingredients and bottle it.”

Repaying the community

So far, the distillery has been able to produce and donate 50 cases of hand sanitizer (a total of 600 one-liter bottles) to the Centre County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which supports all first responders in the county. 

After receiving the donations, the Centre County EMA began distribution to such groups as fire departments, police officers and emergency medical services.

According to Jeff Wharran, director of the agency, the donation helps support the safety of first responders now that the need for personal protective equipment and sanitizer is greater than ever before.

“This helps our first responders function as normally as they can while also helping them stay safe,” Wharran said. “Big Spring Spirits has done a great service to their community, and we were happy to help them out because that, in turn, helps us protect our first responders.”

While the sanitizer is not currently available to the public to purchase, Lloyd says there are plans to continue producing more in the future.

“There are so many other people who are looking for sanitizer, so we’re making a list and will make it available as fast as we can,” Lloyd said. “We know we can’t fill the entire need, but we can do our part to help.”

For Lloyd, being able to contribute to these needs is a way to repay the community for years of support.

“Our company is about six years old, and the community has been fantastic in supporting us through our growing process,” Lloyd said. “We’ve been very appreciative of the response we’ve received from the community, so when there was an opportunity to give back, we felt it was important to do so.”

'We Are' stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories. 

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are! 

Last Updated April 27, 2020