Under normal circumstances, Sage Disch ’09 and the team at Sourland Mountain Spirits spend their days concocting award-winning craft spirits to help people celebrate life. These days, however, as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread, the Hopewell, New Jersey-based distillery is helping to save lives by turning its means of production over to making hand sanitizer for health care systems, first responders, and local nonprofits.
In early April, Sourland Mountain Spirits made its first delivery of more than 2,000 bottles to Capital Health Medical Center (Hopewell, N.J.), Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (Hamilton, N.J.) Princeton Medical Center (Plainsboro, N.J.), HomeFront NJ (Lawrence, N.J.), and the Quakerbridge Mall COVID-19 testing center (Lawrence, N.J.).
To make hand sanitizer, Disch and the Sourland Mountain Spirits team takes its organic neutral grain at 92 percent alcohol and distills it down to 80 percent alcohol, which surpasses the requirement to kill a virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then the local distillers add aloe and hydrogen peroxide and fill the bottle.
“The way we’re thinking about it is we’ve dedicated April and May, at a minimum, to producing sanitizer,” said Disch, whose father, Ray Disch P’09, founded Sourland Mountain Spirits in 2017 and is its CEO. “That’s the framework that we’ve used when we’re purchasing all our raw materials, and when we’re communicating with all the customers and the hospitals and the first responders looking for sanitizer.”
Disch, a New York City-based entrepreneur, joined Sourland Mountain Spirits at a critical time, just as the distillery was converting production to sanitizer. His experience in procuring supplies for production could not have arrived at a better time, as the distillery has an urgent need for the neutral grain spirit that is the base of the sanitizer, as well as hydrogen peroxide and aloe vera.
“For us, the biggest challenge has been sourcing these raw materials, because as all of these craft distilleries across the country have made this conversion, demand has surged and it is extremely challenging to source any of those three raw materials, with neutral grain spirit being the most challenging.”
To that end, Disch and the Sourland Mountain Spirits team hopes to hear from people who might be able to connect them with distributors of these materials, and encourage you to contact them with leads that will allow them to continue their important work for front-line health care workers.
“Basically, we’re getting as creative as possible in trying to source this one raw material,” he says of neutral grain spirit, “which has essentially turned into gold for hand sanitizer production.”
Disch tapped into the Lawrenceville network to help acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep Sourland Mountain Spirits employees safe during the production of hand sanitizer. After seeing the post about Lawrenceville families that donated PPE to local hospitals, he connected with Judy Gao P’20 and Jean Li Cheng P’22 in late March. Cheng’s children Brandon ’22 and Sophie decided to donate masks to their local Bridgewater, N.J. township rescue squad, and the families gave a supply of masks to Lawrenceville’s Health & Wellness Center, as well as to Disch for Sourland employees.
Disch, his father, and the entire Sourland Mountain Spirits team are looking ahead to the time when they can restore their distillery to its intended use. Before transforming into a small hand sanitizer factory, Sourland Mountain Spirits made various specialty craft spirits, including bourbon, vodka, and apply brandy. Its flagship Gin Reserve was named one of the Top 100 spirits of 2019, according to Wine Enthusiast. But for now, the needs of the community are just too strong to ignore.
“It’s been overwhelming, to be honest,” Disch says. “They’re in such dire need of all protective materials and ventilators that they are so appreciative for anyone who is able to help.”
He related a personal example from a friend who is one of the head nurses at Princeton Medical Center, who recently picked up a supply of sanitizer from the distillery.
“She was telling us how appreciative she was that she is now going to be able to make sure that the doctors and the nurses there at least have sanitizer to be able to help them be as safe as possible while continuing to provide care,” Disch says. “That’s why we’re focusing on the hospitals, who we think are the main front lines and who we want to get to first.”
Disch explained that the hospitals they are working with right now are purchasing their sanitizer, but once that demand is satisfied, Sourland Mountain Spirits intends to donate the product to first responders such as EMTs, fire departments, and police departments.
“I think everyone’s just so excited to have an opportunity to contribute,” he says. “It’s been amazing to join and see in real time everyone on our team rallying around this cause.”
A version of this story will appear in the summer 2020 issue of The Lawrentian.
For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at email@example.com.