Sanitizer on tap

Yianni Barakos holds sanitizer bottles at Mason Dixon Distillery in Gettysburg.

A Gettysburg distiller has stopped crafting small-batch spirits and is dedicating 100 percent of his capacity to manufacturing hand sanitizer.

“When you hear that hospitals are running out of it, you know it’s a real crisis,” Mason Dixon Distillery owner Yianni Barakos said Thursday.

Deliveries to area hospitals have begun, and new equipment arrived this week that will ramp up his production from 220 gallons of alcohol per week to nearly 500, he said.

Usually, the 192-proof product is transformed into vodka. Barakos said he is using a recipe developed by the World Health Organization whereby he adds glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, and a little water to make an 80-percent alcohol sanitizer instead.

Barakos would rather serve drinks and food as usual, but “right now, we’re being called on to do something else,” he said.

“Maybe I can do my part to make the impact of this thing just a little bit less,” he said.

Barakos begins with 96-percent ethyl alcohol distilled in an array of gleaming tanks and other distillery equipment. From grinding the grain to filling the bottles takes about a week and a half, he said.

Sensing early the coronavirus might become a bigger concern than many people initially thought, Barakos said he began ordering items including small bottles for sanitizer.

They are almost impossible to find now, but he said he has thousands in stock.

He was already prepared by the time federal authorities loosened some permitting procedures, “so guys like me can pitch in and do our part.”

Once hospitals’ needs are met, Barakos said he hopes to provide sanitizer to first responders, and then, if possible, to smaller healthcare providers and the general public.

As it is, “saying no to dozens of people a day is breaking my heart,” he said.

Barakos said he and an assistant distiller are “working really long days” and not allowing anyone else to enter the business in order to prevent potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Because the business had to close, he recently sent the rest of his staff home, but not empty-handed.

“We cancelled our normal food orders and replaced them with rice, beans, ground beef, chicken stock, and lettuce which I just got done handing out to my team. They also all got a bottle of whiskey,” according to a post on Mason Dixon’s Facebook page.

The business employs 24, including full- and part-time employees, Barakos said. Bottles of spirits can still be ordered for in-state shipment at www.masondixondistillery.com, he said.

The additional distilling equipment represents a “significant investment,” Barakos said. It will still be useful after the pandemic passes, but it’s not an expenditure any restaurateur in Gettysburg would choose to make during the off-season, he said.

Barakos said he wishes he could donate the sanitizer, but he must instead charge a price that is “just above cost” because “none of our bills have stopped.”

Revenue is required to make the effort “sustainable,” but “this isn’t a profit-making endeavor. It’s a ‘satisfy the demand and do our part to help’ endeavor,” Barakos said.

When he began the business in a former furniture factory at 331 W. Water St., Barakos said he had three goals: Create something lasting; make a living; and “help as many people as I can. I can’t think of anything that would check that box harder” than providing scarce sanitizer amid a pandemic.

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