Distillery makes hand sanitizer for hospitals

Shawn Hardy
George Simmers, a 1987 Greencastle-Antrim High School graduates, makes a batch of hand sanitizer at Cold Spring Hollow Distillery in Mercersburg.

George Simmers has added a new entry to his "spirited" distilling resume that dates backs to his days as a Greencastle-Antrim Middle School student.

Simmers, co-owner of Cold Spring Hollow Distillery in Mercersburg, has teamed up with a WellSpan pharmacist to make hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirty-seven years ago, Simmers, Dirk Rockwell and Bryan Crider selected moonshine and the process involved in making it as their project for the Cumberland Life Festival, a rite of passage for G-AMS eighth-graders. They picked mint in the garden at Tayamentasachta, site of the annual festival, processed it in a still made of two 55-gallon drums and copper tubing and made pure mint extract.

Simmers started making beer in the late 1980s and switched to making wine in the 1990s. He began the process of opening the distillery in 2015.

Cold Spring Hollow Distillery, the first licensed distillery in Franklin County since Prohibition, opened at 8 Findlay Drive, Mercersburg, on Nov. 28 — Thanksgiving Day — in 2019. The name comes from Cold Spring Hollow, above Bear Valley near Fort Loudon, where the distillery gets its limestone-rich water.

The distillery's tasting room, where customers can enjoy cocktails made with its whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin and moonshine, is closed to public due the coronavirus outbreak, but bottle sales continue.

"We are currently open seven days a week for bottle sales but no consumption on site is allowed according to the governor," Simmers said.

"The response from our customers has been overwhelming since opening. Even during the shutdown the local community has continued to support us by purchasing bottles to go," the 1987 Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate said.

Customers now get 2.7-ounce bottles of the hand sanitizer with their to-go purchases, while it is provided to WellSpan in 5-gallons buckets that are used to fill smaller applicators.

“In the hospital setting we use hand sanitizer regularly as a way to kill germs on our hands, at WellSpan Waynesboro Hospital and WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital, our supplies were getting low,” explained Dr. Jarett Logsdon, pharmacy manager, WellSpan Waynesboro Hospital. “It is important we get that to the staff, so I reached out to the Cold Spring Hollow Distillery, and they agreed to help.”

The connection was made because one of Simmers' partners is employed by WellSpan and the distillery started making hand sanitizer on March 21.

"It is a good feeling to be able to help the local community when there is a need and we have the ability. As a 24-plus year employee with FEMA I understand what it means to come together as a community when there is a time of need," said Simmers, who is an IT specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Most of the distilleries in Pennsylvania are helping out the community by using our spirits.”

In response to the pandemic, the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration eased restrictions for hand sanitizer and provided a formula used to make it from alcohol used by distilleries, according to WellSpan.

"The first variety we produced used our ethyl alcohol and the FDA formula. The later batches have been using isopropyl alcohol and the FDA formula," Simmer said.

The distillation process for hand sanitzer is the same as for drinkable spirits.

"We must distill vodka to a minimum of 190 proof to be called vodka and the FDA formula states that if ethyl alcohol is used it must be a minimum of 170 proof at the start of blending," Simmers explained. "This gives us some room for proofing with deionized reverse osmosis water to increase the volume of the final batch."

The bottles carry the FDA-mandated label "Antiseptic Hand Rub Non-Sterile Solution," and include the distillery's name and address.