ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Amid a worsening coronavirus crisis in the United States -- including on the First Coast -- the St. Augustine Distillery is making sanitizer.

“We make alcohol that we can’t use every day, that’s too potent to go into a bottle, that makes an incredible cleaning solvent,” Distillery CEO Philip McDaniel explained Tuesday, just days after he went into the lab to make hand sanitizer. 

The idea sprung in a recent meeting that included St. Augustine Police Chief Barry Fox, whose officers often have no way to wash their hands during patrols.

“He said ‘Phillip, we can’t find hand sanitizer,’ and I was like, ‘Chief, what do you need?’” McDaniel recalled.

McDaniel explained that in the distillery’s process of making bourbon, gin, vodka and rum, a byproduct called “heads” rises to the top of the stills.

“When we make our whiskey, we take the top 10 percent of that alcohol run because it's too potent," he said, "and we actually use that for window cleaner at the facility, or we might dilute it and discard it.” 

Instead of discarding it now, however, McDaniel and company have been blending the heads with distilled water, aloe and essential oils, churning out two-ounce bottles of sanitizer the distillery is cleverly labeling “Heads Up.” 

The first 200 bottles were delivered to the police department Tuesday afternoon. Going forward, McDaniel plans to keep making more and offer it at the distillery’s gift shop at 112 Riberia St. The sanitizer will be given out free of charge but urging a donation to help another worthy local cause.

“We have partnered with the American Legion post in West Augustine," McDaniel said. "They are building a new Kids Safe zone playground. It is really exciting.”

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Post 194 on Pearl Street has been working on a new outdoor facility for all ages but geared heavily toward activity for the more than three-dozen kids it serves.

“We’re going to have the Battleship, Connect Four, the monkey bars, the swings, a wiffleball field,” post commander Greg White envisioned in front of an outdoor rendering of the project.

White explained that the post has been able to raise about a third of the $100,000 completion cost.

“Not only does it help the veterans, but it also helps the kids,” White enthused, “so we get it both ways at this point in time.”

As McDaniel said, it’s all "proof positive" that, with the will to help, even a crisis situation can be distilled to produce positive outcomes.

“It’s all about karma,” he said. “Put it out there and hopefully it’ll get in the right hands.”

Adding with a smile, “No pun intended!”

For information about obtaining a bottle of the Heads Up sanitizer and making a donation, call St. Augustine Distillery at 904-825-4962, or go to The Distillery asks that people take one bottle per household. It expects to have bottles available to the public by Friday, March 20.

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