Lakewood Ranch distillery modifies operations during COVID-19 outbreak to produce free hand sanitizer.
Loaded Cannon Distillery President and Founder Steve Milligan is in the alcohol-making business, but his efforts lately haven’t been drinkable.
Last week, Milligan walked through his distillery at 3115 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. and stopped in front of a waist-high silver tank. He grabbed a small glass, dipped it into the tank and pulled out a clear, sparkling liquid — 190-proof alcohol.
“At this point, it can go to hand sanitizer, or it can go to a stainless tank to become vodka or rum,” Milligan said.
Lately, Milligan has focused his efforts on making hand sanitizer.
Since his distillery closed its tasting room in March according to state guidelines, Loaded Cannon has produced more than 328 gallons of hand sanitizer. By comparison, it has made only about 60 gallons of vodka, which Milligan put into
Milligan himself has filled more than $10,000 worth of 2-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer to distribute free to the public. He also sells the hand sanitizer in bulk. He said he is breaking even on the production of hand sanitizer.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If you can do anything to help right now, you should be doing it. If there’s a demand, and people need it, we’ll make it.”
By doing so, he’s been able to keep his employees working and service the public.
“We’ve tried to work smarter,” he said.
Milligan had begun sourcing raw materials for the hand sanitizer even before the Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau relaxed its rules to allow distilleries to produce hand sanitizer.
Loaded Cannon’s version of hand sanitizer uses 190-proof alcohol and adds glycerin and peroxide. Milligan adds green coloring too, so it doesn’t look like water. The glycerin form of hand sanitizer is liquid like water, not gelatinous like the kind made with aloe plants.
Milligan said the “financial hit” will come later, but he’s not worrying because he hopes business soon will return more to normal.
He is part of a group of 21 distillery owners statewide that are lobbying Florida legislators to allow distilleries to deliver their products directly to consumers’ homes or to provide curbside pickup.
“By law, all sales have to be face to face inside the tasting room,” he said.
He said the distillery is open now — up to five people are allowed inside at a time — to pick up hand sanitizer or to buy bottles of liquor.
However, he hopes to restart tours of his facility some time in May, depending on when distilleries get the OK from the state to reopen. When that time comes, visitors will be limited to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Before, on a peak day, his distillery at Loaded Cannon could host up to 400 people. They would take tours of the distillery and then purchase rum, vodka or other products.
Milligan said he hopes the curbside pickup and delivery options will become available to distillers in the near future because they will help mitigate the loss in business while also serving their customers.
Milligan said he plans to make hand sanitizer for as long as it is needed.