A local distillery remains open for business during the COVID-19 shutdown, but is filling their liquor bottles with something other than spirits. 

Ryan & Wood, Inc. Distilleries of 15 Great Republic Drive has switched from producing spirits to hand sanitizer to help with the shortage across Cape Ann during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

"I am sure that we aren't going to be able to make enough to satisfy all the needs when the hospitals call and they want so much," co-owner Bob Ryan said. "But we are doing the best we can."

The federal government has given distilleries, such as Ryan & Wood, permission to make hand sanitizer to help during the public health emergency. 

"Due to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Acting Administrator of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has found that it is necessary or desirable to waive provisions of internal revenue law with regard to distilled spirits, and therefore is providing certain exemptions and authorization to distilled spirits permitters who wish to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizer to address the demand for such products during this emergency," as was written on TTB's official website. 

As of Wednesday, Ryan and his wife Kathy have made two small batches as an exercise to make sure they are in compliance with the requirements set in place by the FDA and TTB. 

"We are not going to cure the world on this," Bob Ryan admitted. 

The hand sanitizer that will be made at their distillery is created from their vodka distillate, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerol. 

The recipe is one advised for use by the World Health Organization, Ryan added. 

In trying to lessen the shortage of hand sanitizer, the Cape Ann couple has had to get creative with packaging their new product as there is a shortage of plastic bottles. 

"Because there has been a run on plastic bottles, we are actually using our spirit bottles that have a twist on top," Ryan explained.

A member of the community

With 35 years in the seafood industry on the waterfront, Bob Ryan co-founded Ryan & Wood Distilleries with his nephew Dave Wood in 2006.

"We wanted to open a business to help Gloucester transition from the declining seafood industry and welcome tourism," Ryan explained. "We decided to find the hardest thing we could do and open a small batch craft distillery."

Now,  14 years after the Ryan and Wood families opened their distillery, a pandemic has hit their beloved city and they are dedicated to helping even if that means changing their product. 

"Just doing what we can," Kathy Ryan said.

The switch from alcohol to sanitizer is not financially comparable for the local distillery. 

"It is not healthy for the checkbook for us. It is a sacrifice for us to stop making our beverage products and switch," Bob Ryan said. "We have committed to do this because you have to be a member of the community and do what we can."

Ryan & Wood usually produces Beauport Vodka, Knockabout Gin, Folly Cove Rum and rye and wheat whiskeys at its manufacturing plant in the Blackburn Industrial Park.

While the company will be hit by the loss of its regular revenue, Bob and Kathy Ryan's distillery has already made an impact on the community in its most dire time of need. 

First customer for a new product

When the local distillery announced that it would be making the switch to hand sanitizer, Bill Scott of Scott Energy on Gloucester Avenue came running. 

"I ran right over and bought a couple of bottles," Scott said. "For the last two weeks I have been trying to buy a supply of hand sanitizer. ... It has been a chore."

Although the company has scaled back its heating oil and propane services, Scott Energy is considered an essential business — a title which keeps it running but also at risk of employees catching the virus. 

"Our concern has been not only for our customers but for our employees," Scott said, explaining that his workers have been using the new sanitizer as they serve customers across Cape Ann and the North Shore.

"I thought it was a real nice to do what they have done and switch gears," he said of Ryan & Wood.

As it continues its business with a twist, selling liter bottles for $30 each, Ryan & Wood Distilleries is also donating the sanitizer to local food banks, medical providers, and people who work with the elderly. 

This includes Action Inc, SeniorCare Inc., and the Gloucester Council on Aging. 

"We are all in the same dory here and we just have to behave and do what is best," Bob Ryan said. 

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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