Iron Shoe working to make mass quantities as demand grows

NILES — By 3 p.m. Saturday, a line had formed outside Iron Shoe Distillery as people waited to retrieve locally made hand sanitizer.

By 3:10 p.m., the more than 100 16-ounce bottles the business had distilled had been given away.

Following advisories from the CDC to wash hands often to slow the spread of coronavirus, department stores have been wiped clean of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for about a week. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau advised distilleries across the country that they could help. Iron Shoe Distillery, 3 N. Third St. in Niles, announced March 16 it would close until social distancing mandates had been lifted, but co-owner Howard Tuthill continued to work distilling hand sanitizer.

“I had the alcohol I was planning on making into whiskey, but when I learned that I could do this, I just turned it into [hand cleaner] instead,” Tuthill said Friday night as he finished prepping the bottles of sanitizer for distribution.

The business owners planned to open from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday to pass out hand sanitizer, which was distributed for free. Though the hand sanitizer was gone within 10 minutes, the Tuthills continued to sell spirits and collect donations, which will be distributed to Iron Shoe staff who are without work during the closure.

“The support was overwhelming,” Tuthill said. “People were happy and appreciative of the sanitizer, and we were happy and appreciative of the turnout.”

Iron Shoe’s hand cleaner is made of 70 percent alcohol by volume, 10 percent higher than the CDC’s recommendation of 60 percent. The hand sanitizer also contains mineral oil, which is softer on the skin, Tuthill said.

As distilleries across the country work to keep up with the high demand of sanitizer, Tuthill said he is contemplating how he can make more.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests from just about everybody — individuals, but also organizations, hospitals, different businesses in the health care industry — that are asking if we can make more or supply more,” Tuthill said. “Right now I’m just trying to figure out how I can make as much as I can as quickly as I can.”

Tuthill said the sanitizer takes approximately a week and a half to distill, but he is looking at methods to speed up the process.

Among the many requesting sanitizer were medical organizations, one of which asked to purchase multiple five-gallon buckets of the it. Individuals, however, require smaller, more portable bottles.

“Once I figure out how much sanitizer I can make, how quickly I can make it and what size containers and all that, then we’ll have more regular hours so that people can pick it up,” Tuthill said.

Although distilling the sanitizer puts distilling the distillery’s locally made rum, vodka, limoncello and bourbon whiskey on hold, Tuthill said Iron Shoe fans should not worry that supply will run out.

“I have a pretty good stockpile of our other spirits, so that’s not an issue,” he said. “Not really being open at all, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

The federal government authorized and encouraged distilleries across the nation to assist in supplying hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 crisis until June. Once Tuthill determines a quicker way to make mass quantities of the sanitizer, the business will post to its Facebook page.

“We have been flooded with requests from individuals, businesses and healthcare facilities for hand sanitizer,” Iron Shoe’s Facebook page read Monday morning. “Please know that we are doing our best to make more as quickly as possible and it should be available for purchase in the next one to two weeks. If you are an organization looking to purchase in bulk, please email Laura: If you are an individual, please keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates.”