Yukon Brewing shifts from spirits to hand sanitizer

Whitehorse-based Yukon Brewing has won awards for its craft beer and spirits. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic means it is now brewing something very different — hand sanitizer.

"We were approached a couple of days ago by the RCMP. They heard of distilleries elsewhere making hand sanitizer and [asked] whether we had the ability to do it," said Bob Baxter, president of Yukon Brewing, late last week.

Police, paramedics, and other health care workers are in desperate need of hand sanitizer. So Yukon Brewing answered the call, and shifted gears.

"We were looking around town for glycerine, in a couple different drug stores," Baxter said. Glycerine is used in hand sanitizer to treat dry skin.

Baxter says the shortage of hand sanitizer across Canada is severe. Distilleries elsewhere have also started making hand sanitizer to meet the demand.

"We had no idea the number of places that use this material," he said.

Philippe Morin/CBC

Baxter says the recipe for the sanitizer was devised with some help from his brewmaster and the World Health Organization.

"Basically the bulk of it is ethanol, what you would think of as alcohol — around 75 per cent," he said.

Baxter says they add humectant — a substance to preserve moisture — as well as water and hydrogen peroxide, to make the hand sanitizer undrinkable. 

Baxter says they'll take a three-tier approach to distributing the product, based on priority.

The first tier would be emergency first responders, the second would be commercial users like retail stores, and the third would be the general public.

The brewery produced an 18-litre pail for the RCMP last week, and are now busy making more. 

Some has also gone to the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, the City of Whitehorse and local medical clinics.

"The City is thankful to have secured 20 litres from Yukon Brewing and will distribute this supply internally according to priority for those staff members at the highest exposure/risk level," said City of Whitehorse spokesperson Myles Dolphin in an email to CBC. 

If you asked Baxter a week ago if he would be making hand sanitizer instead of beer, he says he would have laughed.

"You just never know what's next around the bend," he said.