MOOREFIELD – Operators of a fledgling distillery operation stonewalled by the COVID-19 fallout have found a new purpose and, they believe, a long-term product line, making hand sanitizer.
After operating as a contract distiller since 2016, Waterloo Region-based Pepprell Distilling Co. was set to gear up production in its own facility to meet a growing demand when the pandemic hit.
“Getting the license for liquor and spirts is a very painful, prolonged process with the government,” said Cameron Curry, sales and development lead for Pepprell Distilling, and now Hilwood Sanitizer.
“We started our application process about four and a half, five years ago, and it took us the better part of four years to actually get our licensed issued.”
Curry explained that access to a suitable building is a key licensing requirement for spirit producers.
“We weren’t necessarily aware at the outset, but the building requirements were the exact same as a bomb factory. So there’s very limited buildings available and you need to secure a building before the government will entertain an application,” he said.
“What you are allowed to do is contract to pay another established facility to produce your spirits for you, or to allow you to go in and produce your spirts under their license. So for a while that is what we were doing.”
In January of 2019, Pepprell announced it had acquired the former Moorefield public works facility from the Township of Mapleton. The Hilwood Sanitizer name comes the building’s Hillwood Drive location.
“We moved to the Moorefield facility officially in June and we are fully independent. We have all of our spirit licenses and we are now fully operational,” said Curry.
Curry said the company’s spirits were going through the process to be listed with the LCBO when the pandemic brought things to a halt.
They were also being sold through several outlets, including the Drayton Chop House, but when restrictions same into play the comapny’s partners “made the very conscientious but challenging decision to shut down.
“That put us in a bit of a challenging spot in that we still had to pay rent and we still wanted to keep some of our staff and we wanted to be able to help our community,” Curry recalls.
“We found ourselves in a very unique position that we had the license to purchase raw ethanol which is a very challenging license to get.
“Of course that license allows us to produce hand sanitizer relatively easily in terms of production and pivoting and all of us at the company – there’s five owners in total – all of us have someone who is very much high risk,” from the COVID-19 virus.
One partner, he explained, is connected to a nurse, another to a firefighter, two have close relatives in long-term care facilities and another has a spouse in a high-risk pregnancy.
“So this really, really, really fit us as partners. And something in our soul said ‘you have the ability to help, we need to help, we need to do this,’” said Curry.
About three weeks ago “we put all efforts forward and we turned our whole operation into a sanitizing production facility.”
In addition to the five partners, the operation has added two employees since switching to hand-sanitizer mode.
While the company is still actively involved in the distillery business, “the distribution challenges with liquor right now are immense,” said Curry.
“We still are offering home delivery, free of charge and we are still working with our partners when and if they open. So we are going to have two businesses.
“One will be Hilwood Sanitizer, one will continue to be Pepprell Distilling and we are equally invested in both. Right now our focus is on sanitizer, due to the need of the community, front line workers, and the fact liquor sales are just not what they were when we were actually socializing and going to restaurants.”
Curry said the company is in the process of exploring several potential distributing partners for Hilwood Sanitizer products and officials hope that by the end of the year the product will be available “not only in our Mapleton community and KW, but hopefully province-wide.
“By early 2021 we hope to be available nationally and possibly even internationally … We’re very close to securing the Ontario distribution,” he stated.
Before expanding production, however, Curry said the company must overcome bottlenecks in the supply chain and a lack of actual bottles for packaging.
“The problem for us is not so much the production capacity, it’s the raw ingredients to produce it and additionally it’s the bottles,” he explained.
“I knew nothing about the bottle world three weeks ago, but now I can tell you that bottles are being ordered 12 to 16 months out. America is basically sending zero bottles our way. We’re looking at Canadian, and Canadian only, partners … so we are certainly open and looking to anyone in the community that either has access to isopropyl or ethanol, or to any type of a bottles that are appropriate to sanitizer. And that would allow us to increase production and get more out.”
Right now, Hilwood Sanitizer is offering delivery service in Mapleton and the surrounding area and products can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plans are also in the works to open up for “contactless pickup right at our Mapleton shop,” Curry noted.
“Were here to help. So if there are frontline organizations, if there are essential businesses that are operating, we want to know, because we want to get product to them to keep them and their staff safe while they’re working,” he said.
“And we do have organizational programs to make it for affordable and offer better value.”