With its tasting room and retail store closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, Edmonds-based Scratch Distillery owners Bryan and Kim Karrick are turning their creative energies in a new direction aimed at helping to our local first responders. They’re switching from Scratch’s award-winning potable spirits to a more humble — but increasingly essential — product now in short supply: hand sanitizer.
“Our first responders are out there in the front lines, putting themselves at considerable risk of exposure,” said Bryan Karrick, who along with wife and business partner Kim Karrick own and operate the award-winning Scratch Distillery in Edmonds’ Salish Crossing. “These heroes need sanitizer to do their jobs, and lots of it. The primary ingredient is alcohol, we’ve got the equipment and skills to produce it, and it’s an easy matter for us to switch over from producing potable spirits to sanitizer.”
The first hurdle the couple had to surmount was securing the raw material to produce the alcohol. Ultimately this meant thinking outside the box and diverging from their usual business model.
Scratch prides itself on producing its products from locally sourced ingredients. The organic grains are typically grown right here in Western Washington, cooked into mash and fermented right on site. The Karricks believe in controlling the process from beginning to end, ensuring corners aren’t cut and quality isn’t degraded along the way. This A to Z approach produces a brilliant product but is time consuming and expensive.
“Our model is really not typical,” Bryan Karrick said. “Most distilleries actually purchase their alcohol from bulk suppliers, then add flavorings and other additives to turn it into gin, vodka or whatever. You don’t even need a still to produce product this way. The big advantage to this is significantly lower costs.”
But Scratch’s hands-on approach is about more than just producing premium spirits — there’s a social responsibility aspect as well. As Kim Karrick notes, “local farmers are taking financial risks by making organic products and Scratch wants to support these sustainability practices.”
And their philosophy has paid off.
In operation since 2015, Scratch has already received numerous awards, including the 2019 Best of the Northwest Spirits Double Gold for its WAquavit.
This is all great for connoisseurs of fine spirits, but how do you turn this approach into providing price-competitive hand sanitizer, where using alcohol produced from “scratch” would put costs through the roof?
The answer was finding a low-cost source of alcohol. Bryan contacted two large companies that produce neutral grain spirits in bulk, but all were busy filling orders for their large existing customers, and none was interested in supplying a small operation like Scratch.
That’s when Kim put her thinking cap on. She came up with the idea to reach out to her contacts in the winemaking and brewery businesses to see if they had any product on hand that wasn’t selling.
Turns out winemakers Sparkman Cellars and Uva Furem had 990 gallons of white wine on hand that they were willing to donate to the effort. On top of that, Elysian Brewing had a similar amount of unsalable beer that they were also willing to donate.
With the raw materials found, all that remained was to get it delivered to Scratch, fire up the stills, and distill off the alcohol. According to Bryan, these donated materials should yield more than 150 gallons of 90-95 percent alcohol.
“By cooking it off a bit faster than we would for our products, we are able to include some impurities that effectively denature the alcohol, making it unfit to drink,” he explained. “This avoids the extra step of adding denaturing agents and helps keep production costs low.”
The final product will follow the World Health Organization formula for hand sanitizer, which calls for 80% alcohol with dashes of glycerol (to help keep your skin from drying out) and hydrogen peroxide (to kill any residual spores that are resistant to the alcohol). The Karricks are looking at an initial run of approximately 1,000 liters of sanitizer.
“The Washington Distillers Guild has great leadership and was right on top of organizing our members into a network of hand sanitizer producers,” Bryan explained. “They’ve helped with supply chain issues and even produced 10,000 labels for the hand sanitizer. I picked up 1,000 labels yesterday, so we’ve got everything we need on hand to produce our first batch this week, decant it into one-liter bottles, attach labels, and make it initially available exclusively to our local first responders.”
First customers will be South County Fire and the Lynnwood Police Department (Edmonds police say they are sufficiently supplied at this time). Once these needs are met, the Karricks plan to reach out to other local municipalities and responder organizations. If anything is left over, they hope to explore selling it to individuals, but according to Bryan it’s too early at this point to know if there will be sufficient supplies.
“So here we go with our first production of this totally surreal product from Scratch Distillery,” Bryan concluded with a smile. “If it helps our neighborhood fire and rescue, police and hospitals this month, we’ll feel like we’ve made a meaningful contribution to helping these heroic people who support and nurture us.”
(See a related story on Lynnwood’s Temple Distilling and its pivot from gin to hand sanitizer here.)
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel