Sustaining human health and addressing economic inadequacies keeps us afloat during times of crisis. It forces us to introduce long-lasting solutions that improve the relationship between human and ecological systems.
We spoke with Michael Foglia, Wigle Whiskey’s Manager of Product Development, and Innovation, to understand how Wigle transformed its production line to respond to community need.
It all started with a notice released by Tito’s Vodka in February, urging customers to stop using their products to make homemade hand sanitizer – vodka does not actually have a high enough proof to effectively combat COVID-19. Since then, Wigle has been producing hand sanitizer to be distributed across Allegheny County in efforts to mitigate spread of the disease. The sanitizer has been a fully donation-based effort.
In March the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the regulatory body which governs distilleries, published a notice saying they were interested in helping distillers make and distribute the much-needed sanitizer. The TTB waived the excise tax distillers are typically mandated. Foglia says this made the job of production and distribution much more feasible. This waiver is in effect as long as distillers follow other quality control standards according to FDA guidelines. “We have watched eight hours of webinars with instructions on how to comply with the main regulatory bodies,” Foglia said.
For the first step of the process, Wigle had to learn how to denature alcohol for sanitizer. The denaturing process makes alcohol more bitter to prevent poisoning. The team had to carry out this process while ensuring the denatured alcohol did not come into contact with their usual products.
The local distillery community stepped up, too. Breweries began to offer their base alcohol for Wigle to start turning into sanitizer. “Dennis Hock from Strange Roots, maybe a minute and a half within our first Instagram post, reached out saying ‘Hey, if there is anything that we can do to help, let us know. We want to be part of it,’ Foglia said.
Officers of the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department have also been essential partners in the process, picking up the sanitizer in bulk to have it packaged and distributed.
Despite the immense time commitment, the team has been able to maintain their regular whiskey production schedule while producing hand sanitizer. Wigle coordinates their production schedule to match seasonal shifts in temperature. This sustainable measure ensures that water consumption is limited when possible and is used in the most effective manner, but it also helped them quickly adapt to the growing need for hand sanitizer.
“Each distillery is such a distinct space, and what they’re able to produce under their timeline and margins is unique,” Foglia said. It might make all the sense in the world for one distillery to move over to producing only hand sanitizer, whereas for many, it might not even be worth making one bottle”.
The team anticipates that once mainstream production of hand sanitizer catches up to the demand, Wigle will most likely cease production. However, contributing as a member of the community is something they’ll always commit to.