By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON – What if you opened a distillery/restaurant and a global pandemic hit just as your federal liquor license was about to be issued to start making moonshine?
In the case of Ripton Mountain Distillery, you start making hand sanitizer.
Rick Carroll and Bernard Quesnel opened Ripton Mountain Distillery on New Year’s Eve in the former Shapiro’s department store space at 12 and 14 Park Street. As they dished out standard alcoholic drinks along with burgers and steaks, they waited for their federal permit to re up their gleaming 500-gallon maple still to make moonshine. And they waited. And they waited. Then, the CO- VID-19 pandemic hit and Gov. Phil Scott ordered all restaurants and bars closed to in-house patrons on March 17. The guys at
Ripton Mountain had just un- veiled a new menu on Feb. 24.
“Doing take out just wasn’t worth our time, so we closed the doors,” Carroll said.
But on March 23, Ripton Mountain Distillery received its federal alcohol permit, not in spite of the pandemic, but be- cause of it. A key ingredient in hand sanitizer is denatured alcohol, and with shortages right here in Addison and Rutland counties, there is a need. Carroll and Quesnel credit Kelly Hartley of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau with fast tracking their federal permit.
“One of the nicest government people I’ve ever dealt with,” Carroll said. “She should be commended for what she did. She made it happen for us.”
A call to Hartley for comment was not returned by press time.
Appalachian Gap Distillery, Aqua ViTea and Vermont Soap have pooled their equipment, raw materials and manpower in Middlebury to make a hand
sanitizer that will be distributed to all hospital affiliates within the University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN), including Porter Medical Center. Ripton Mountain Distillery is now se- curing its own contracts to do the same.
“We’re actually looking for companies who want to partner with us and buy the alcohol for hand sanitizer,” Carroll said. “We’ve got our feelers out.”
Ripton Mountain has a contract with one company in Southern Vermont and is looking for more. In the meantime, Carroll and his head distiller, Kevin “Mule” Murray, are learning what it takes to put the still to this timely new use.
“Put it this way, it’s all new,” Carroll said. “Moonshine is grain alcohol. We have to turn it into rubbing alcohol.”
To do that, Carroll said they will add a certain amount of peppermint extract per gallon, which will turn the grain alcohol into denatured alcohol. Then the de- natured alcohol will be put into barrels and manufacturers will pick it up and add glycerin, per- oxide and a scent to create hand sanitizer in their own facilities.
Carroll said he would provide transportation of the alcohol to manufacturers if necessary.
The distillers have started the process. The mash that will go into the still needs to ferment for 10 days, so the still will re up on April 2. Carroll said they have subsequent mashes fermenting in line behind the first batch, so once the still is lit, the mashes will be ready to use for each batch.
“This is a process,” he said. “We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re trying to help people and we’re just trying to survive. We definitely need more con- tracts. Then we just might make
it.”Carroll also said that he is offering the restaurant space for meetings if necessary, and is considering starting a soup kitchen with curbside service if the pandemic creates a need.
“If there’s anything else we can do to help anybody, let us know,” he said. “If people are really, re- ally hurting, we’re here to help.”
To contact Ripton Mountain Distillery about hand sanitizer, email email@example.com