Chamber’s Bay Distillery Pivots to Hand Sanitizer Production

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things. Schools, restaurants and bars are shutdown. High fives and handshakes are out. Social interactions, the few that remain, take place via Zoom or from at least six feet away. Throngs of people wait in lines for hours, not for the latest iPhone, but for the chance to purchase some toilet paper.

Every day brings with it a slew of updates. Entire states are on lockdown and entire nations are closing their borders. The transformation has been swift, unrelenting and blunt. Things seem bleak, but coronavirus has also brought out the best in a lot of people. Scan social media and you’ll see folks reaching out to offer assistance to others in myriad ways from hosting online performances to volunteering to shopping for elderly neighbors.

Chamber’s Bay Distillery (CBD) is known for making award-winning spirits. Alan Davis and Jeff Robinette co-founded the University Place business back in 2012.

Born and raised in Lakewood, the duo try to keep things local. The wild yeast used in the fermentation process comes from the Curran Apple Orchard in University Place. The grains used to create the alcohol come from Grant County in Eastern Washington. The aging process is done on a floating boat house in Puget Sound.

“Our barrels are in constant motion with the tide and the waves,” said Davis. “Bourbon gets about two-thirds of its flavor from the barrel so anything you can do to increase the interaction between the spirit and the wood is going to help speed up the aging process.”

The beauty of how Davis and Robinette approach their craft doesn’t quite mesh with their latest endeavor. Words like “premium” or “aged,” along with romantic images of bourbon tumbling in wood barrels to the rhythms of the Sound, seem odd when talking about hand sanitizer.

A few weeks ago Davis and Robinette came across articles that talked about how people were trying to use Tito’s Vodka to make homemade sanitizer. “Tito’s is only 40% alcohol,” said Davis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state sanitizers have to be at least 60% alcohol.

As the pandemic unfolded, people stocked up on soaps, disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Stores quickly ran out of all three. Davis and Robinette decided they could help. They had all the raw materials needed to make sanitizer: ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, distilled water and a moisturizing agent like glycerin. The company churned out two-ounce glass bottles of hand sanitizer that they gave away at their tasting room in University Place—limit one per person.

Governor Inslee’s order to close restaurants applied to Chamber’s Bay’s normal production, so now the company is working full-time on making sanitizer for the general public.

“Instead of sitting here doing nothing we decided we were going to do this,” said Davis. Robinette and Davis are also working on securing grains for ethanol to bulk produce sanitizer for first responders. “We’re going to sell it to them at cost that way we can continue to make more otherwise we’d be out of money,” said Davis.

While the world feels like it’s falling apart, people are also lending a metaphorical hand. Metaphorical don’t need to be sanitized but ours do. Luckily, Davis and Robinette have our backs.

To find out when they’ll be handing out hand sanitizer next, give Chamber’s Bay Distillery a follow on Facebook or Instagram.

Check here for more local and statewide Coronavirus resources.

Photos by Sierra Hartman

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