The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Distillery making sanitizer for medical community, first responders


March 26, 2020

John and Lauri Koehler, who live on Mill Creek Road and operate a craft distillery for the production of potato vodka, are temporarily turning their passion into creating another product in order to help local medical facilities and first responders stay safe during the current public health emergency brought on by the novel coronavirus: hand sanitizer.

After panic buying and greed emptied shelves of hand sanitizer, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and Food and Drug Administration enacted a temporary policy to allow craft distilleries to make the much needed product for health care providers.

So the Koehlers, who are members of the Washington Distillers Guild, and have been making Exalt Vodka at their Eagle Cliffs Distillery for three or four years now, decided to join the campaign.

The World Health Organization has provided a formula, which they must follow.

“I have the test product in route,” Koehler said. “I’m having to make a test batch or two.”

Koehler has been trying to reach out to authorities in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz Counties before placing an order for supplies so he can ascertain how much need there is for hand sanitizer in local medical facilities, including assisted living and nursing homes, as well as for local fire departments, law enforcement, and emergency services personnel.

This temporary venture is all heart, as the Koehlers have had to reach into their own retirement monies to fund the project, which will not profit them in any way. They will be selling the hand sanitizer at cost, and it will not be available to the public.

“We saw the need,” Koehler said. “We wanted to respond.”

According to Koehler, it isn’t just hand sanitizer that’s hard to find. It turns out that the bottles are special too, made specifically to hold the high alcohol content. Koehler and other distillers are unable to purchase bottles made by the manufacturer, he said, because somebody already bought them all up, and put in a huge order for more.

So Koehler has a request.

“Don’t throw your empty bottle away,” he said. “Local fire departments, EMS, medical facilities, and law enforcement can use them.

In the near future, he hopes to fill as many one liter bottles and five pound pails as he can.

The Koehlers have enjoyed making vodka, but there have been barriers to selling their product. Things might be looking up. A bill passed in the legislature this year, Koehler said, that will allow craft distilleries to have two offsite tasting rooms in 2021. They had been selling their vodka at the farmers market in Longview, and will be allowed to continue to do so until June of this year.

In the meantime, check out their website for places to buy Exalt Vodka or their Facebook page, Eagle Cliffs Distillery.


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