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Calgary craft brewer Annex Ales going into the hand sanitizer business during coronavirus pandemic

Calgary craft brewer Annex Ale Project is pivoting their city business to shore up a tight supply of hand sanitizer in the wake of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Using a recipe provided by the World Health Organization, Annex Ales co-founder Andrew Bullied said they wanted to spring into action.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s a bit of a problem sourcing hand sanitizer right now,” said Bullied.

“We could just sit on our hands and do nothing and wait for this whole thing to go away, or we could keep ourselves busy and try and supply Calgary with something that’s critically needed.”

How it will work – from wash to alcohol

Bullied said they’re working with two local distillers – Two Rivers Distillery and Confluence Distillery – to produce ethanol from their wash. Wash is the beer that’s been fermented. The distillers will be able to distill the alcohol out of this, Bullied said.

From there, the alcohol will be brought back for the hand sanitizer mixture.

They’re working with Euan Thomson of Raft Beer Labs, a local lab for fermentation science and analytics, on making sure the recipe is perfected.

“He’s going to be making sure that we get this recipe correct and testing it for quality assurance,” Bullied said.

They’re going to use their canning line to fill cans. Bullied said they’re calling it a hand sanitizer refill.

“We would want people to bring it home, open the can and then transfer the hand sanitizer to a sealable bottle. So ideally, you know, like an old hand sanitizer pump or a soap dispenser or even a shampoo bottle would probably work in a pinch,” he said.

He said they may have to switch out a couple of lines when all is said and done, but for the most part they’ll be able to keep the sanitizer operation clear of the beer. That and most of the stainless steel equipment can be readily cleaned.

Changing the business in a time of crisis

Bullied said they’ve had to lay off multiple employees so far. They’ve kept a skeleton crew. They are still offering beer during limited hours.

This is an opportunity to help keep some of their people employed even longer and to work with other struggling Calgary businesses.

“We have to pivot some way,” he said.

“We’re not in this to make a lot of money here. We’re trying to slow down the bleed of our cash flow. We’re going to get this out and price it as fairly as possible.”

He said as long as there’s a need, they’re going to continue producing it. But they’ll be back at the beer as soon as possible.

“I didn’t get into this business to make hand sanitizer,” Bullied laughed.

“But this is war time measures.”