The smooth, 190 proof muscadine brandy crafted at Boogie Bottom Spirits in Perdido can soothe the soul. It may also help save the world.
Last month when hand sanitizer disappeared from store shelves, every employee at Baldwin County’s largest wine crafter, Perdido Vineyards, turned their efforts to making the much needed commodity.
“We’re just going to keep making it until we don’t need to anymore or until the regulatory agencies pull the plug,” said Chief Distiller Ross Centanni. “It’s the biggest compounding job we’ve ever done.”
The crew’s first batch of 66 jugs was sent to first responders. The next batch sold out to the public in less than six minutes. They are working around the clock to produce, locate sparse ingredients and purchase bottles.
Perdido Vineyards, is nestled in the northeast corner of the county amid 50 acres of muscadine grapes. For 30 years it catered to celebrities, top restaurant venues and locals sitting on the back porch with bottles of Rose Cou Rouge, French for “Redneck Rose.”
Boogie Bottom Spirits, a subsidiary of the winery, distills rum from locally grown sugarcane.
Centanni said in early March, many consumers began searching for ways to make their own sanitizer and the Food and Drug Administration worried that the homemade concoctions wouldn’t be safe. The federal agency loosened the rules so that other entities, like the distillery, could produce their own, providing they used the World Health Organization formula which includes prescribed volumes of alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, and sterile water.
Now as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, hand sanitizer is the only product the distillery is making.
At first, the winery had trouble finding gallon jugs and other ingredients as producers across the nation all hustled to help fill the sanitizer void. Coastal Industrail Supply in Robertsdale was able to source many of the ingredients at cost for the winery.
WHO requires hand sanitizer is made with 80 percent alcohol, not a problem for Centanni who produces 190 proof Muscadine brandy. Normally the concoction is used to fortify the wines. When the coronavirus crisis struck, the vineyard shifted its entire production line to making 190 proof Muscadine brandy to be used as the hand sanitizer base.
In one 12-hour day, Centanni’s crew can craft 22 – 24 gallons of sanitizer. The process is fairly simple: as the brandy is boiled substances in the liquid rise at various boiling points. When the alcohol rises, it is collected and its proof is measured by a hydrometer.
When the hydrometer hits 190 proof ethanol, the pot is emptied and the process begins again.
The ethanol removed from the brandy is diluted with water. Glycerin is added to keep users’ hands from drying. Hydrogen peroxide is added as a preservative. The entire mix is given a good stir and added to jugs.
Sanitizer made from the brandy doesn’t smell or taste like the fruity liquor it was culled from. When alcohol is distilled it is always clear, Centanni said.
The FDA’s emergency order allows distillers like Centanni to continue producing hand sanitizer until June 30. He says they will make it for as long as they are allowed.
“This is something that is incredibly needed right now,” he said. “We don’t have a need to be producing rum or brandy for the moment when we can be contributing to our community by making hand sanitizer.”
If you have questions about the hand sanitizer or to be placed on the waiting list to purchase, send an email to email@example.com The staff asks that customers not leave voice mail or call with questions due to the overwhelming response.