Alpine Distilling uses ethanol to create hand sanitizer for first-responders

Rob Sergent, Alpine Distilling founder and manager, is utilizing his skills to create hand sanitizer for Park City and Summit County first responders. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Alpine Distilling has shifted its production of vodka to a different endeavor — hand sanitizer that is being distributed to first responders.

The idea of taking the distilled ethanol used to make spirits to cleanser came to the company’s founder and manager Rob Sergent a couple of weeks ago, when he began making it for his own personal use.

“At that time I didn’t have legal permission to make hand sanitizer, because the only thing I had permission to do was make vodka,” he said.

Sergent contacted the states Tax and Tariff Bureau to see if he could start making the sanitizer for distribution, and he was given the green light on March 19.

They are the ones who are risking their lives to go into crazy situations…” Rob Sergent,Alpine Distilling co-founder and manager

“I have to applaud the TTB’s leadership,” he said. “They understood we could make a difference, and they fast tracked the permit to allow us to do this with no strings attached.”

Dr. Aaron Hofmann, a local orthopedic surgeon and one of Alpine Distillery’s investors, agreed to pay the ethanol tax so Sergent could make the sanitizer, according to Sergent.

The formula uses purified water that they get from the distillery’s aquifer, and the water is turned into ethanol and then mixed with hydrogen peroxide and glycol.

“We are making all of it at the distillery,” Sergent said. “A bunch of my cohorts have jumped into action, and this is pretty exciting.”

The largest issue now is the limit on hydrogen peroxide and glycol sales.

“We went to grocery stores, Walmart, Sinclair, and we bought hydrogen peroxide from anywhere we could get it,” he said.

At one point Sergent’s wife Sara, who co-founded Alpine Distilling, had to sit down and talk with Smith’s grocery store administrators about what she and her husband were doing so they could purchase more of the supplies without it seeming like they’re hoarding it, he said.

“The stressful part about all of this is I spent about $10,000 on supplies to make the sanitizer,” Sergent said. “If this all dries up next week, I have put myself in a much worse position. So we’re hopeful the community will continue to support us.”

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Alpine’s sales have plummeted, and Sergent is concerned about the future of the business.

“Some local restaurants have already preordered Alpine Distilling’s vodka for the summer to help create some cash flow, which is huge for us,” he said.

Initially, Sergent offered the hand sanitizer for free to the Park City community before he was contacted by local first responders — police, firefighters, ambulance drivers and others.

“When they called, we had to make a decision, and it was a hard one to make,” he said. “We decided until we get more supplies, we had to restrict the distribution to make sure the first responders would get it first, because they are the ones who are risking their lives to go into crazy situations.”

Sergent said, however, if he is able to get more supplies, he will be able to make more sanitizer for the public.

“We are also looking at selling bulk sanitizer in the future for as long as we can,” he said. “We also want to make sure we can pay the bills so we can continue to operate.”

Sergent’s idea to create hand sanitizer germinated through discussions with his father, who was an Infection Control Officer in the U.S. Navy.

“We had a discussion about the multiple uses of ethanol,” he said.

Another influence was Sergent’s grandmother, who was a nurse during World War II.

She would fly from Lexington to the towns where Sergent’s family made their own liquor outside of the law, said Sergent, the family’s first legal distiller.

“The first they did when they landed was find someone with a still, because distillate has been used as an antiseptic since before the times of Christ,” he said. “And she would use it as a nurse.”

Taking a cue from his grandmother, Sergent said he is trying to find a balance of Alpine Distillery’s capability, and his responsibility as a neighbor, to make a difference in the community.

“So, whether you drink or not, there is a purpose for what we do, and it’s an honor to be able to close that circle to help people in that capacity,” he said. “I feel I have a kinship, a personal connection, to all of this. I’m excited we’re providing the sanitizer that is made at the highest standards available to first-responders in Summit County that didn’t cost the taxpayers anything.”

Additional reporting by Tanzi Propst

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