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A Spirited Response

May 12, 2020

Ryan Chaffin, Vermont Fresh Network board member and Director of Marketing & Business Development at Farrell Distributing, recently shared with us the details of the amazing partnership to produce hand sanitizer. It is wonderful to see VFN members collaborating and partnering on such positive projects during this crisis. 

Please read below and watch A Spirited Response Video

The Covid-19 crisis has hit all of us hard: nobody has been spared, including the beer industry. As the virus spread, frontline workers, essential workers, and our neighbors needed hand sanitizer, but with increased sudden demand there was a national shortage of it. In late March, Farrell Distributing President and CEO, David Farrell, announced a collaboration that was developing among a coalition of Vermont Businesses. This coalition was comprised of a distributor, a kombucha company, a cidery, and a distillery. This project would exemplify the spirit of Vermont businesses to rally and to support each other and the communities we serve and call home. At that time, we had 5,500 kegs (equal to 70,000 gallons) of draft beer that we would not be able to sell before it expired and would have to be destroyed. We wondered how we could put that beer to good use?

A plan was hatched to take all of these kegs to Citizen Cider (Burlington), transfer all of the liquid into their cider tanker, drive that tanker to Aqua ViTea Kombucha (Middlebury), use their centrifuge (high speed spinner to separate the alcohol from the beer), and bring that alcohol to Caledonia Spirits (Montpelier) where they will complete the project by making hand sanitizer with the alcohol. This amazing plan required four local business owners to collaborate at the highest level, all pivoting their business plans to address a major problem.

This passion motivated me to work extra hard to capture this project with a longtime collaborator of mine, Eli Harrington. What to do with all that beer, how to get it around the state so it can be turned into something good, something needed, something critical to our day-to-day lives today. How to capture the essence of this project, safely, while following Governor Scott’s guidance added another level of planning and coordination.

Through this project our brewery partners have played a role in the greater good allowing us to use their beer to help create hand sanitizer and we are awfully proud of them. Much already has been donated early on by Caledonia Spirits as Ryan Christiansen (President & Head Distiller) speaks about, and more will be needed, I am sure. But now to have locally made hand sanitizer available for sale at a fair price, was a mission that we can call complete. What’s not complete, is the important safety measures we all must continue to follow, to be, as what Justin Heilenbach (Founder and Owner of Citizen Cider) says, “Good Citizens” by social distancing, and following the Governor’s guidance at all times.

This is a story where otherwise good beer was headed for inevitable destruction, but was repurposed by a coalition of Vermont business owners who had a plan to help the community.

A Spirited Response is a quick pause in time to reflect on what we do best in Vermont: collaborate and take care of each other. We pick up the phone and ask basic questions in time of need. What can we do? How can we help? And in this scenario, it quickly went to, “let’s do everything we can to make it happen!” And that is what was done: dumping all that beer was painful, both financially and mentally, considering it was brewed intentionally and with great passion and was ready for the public to enjoy. Mid-March in Vermont is typically wonderful with snow-covered mountains, locals, and guests from all over the world enjoying outdoor recreation, culinary and agricultural offerings, and our Made-in-Vermont spirit. This beer was destined to be a part of that mix, but it was not meant to be. Same goes to our partners and friends here, we share that commonality, they all had the same types of dilemmas to work through and are still dealing with.

I hope you enjoy this brief story; all industries are having to make tough decisions in our home state, and this is a little glimpse of ours. This is not special to us, however. Distributors, breweries, and cideries all over the state, country, and overseas are facing the same dilemma with all their fermented liquid that might have to be destroyed, both currently, and potentially down the road.

“We think there's close to a billion dollars’ worth of impact directly to the beer industry as it relates to just the loss from the product alone,” National Beer Wholesalers Association CEO and President Craig Purser told Yahoo Finance. “This was the worst time this could happen.”

More beer will be made to be enjoyed with your families and friends at pubs and restaurants in time. Until then, take care of each other. Shop local. Support your neighbors.

This will be one of many stories that will play out across the state as a response to this crisis, just like Hurricane Irene, and other hardships we have survived as a community. Working for a local brewery at the time of Hurricane Irene I remember very clearly what business collaboration, and neighbors-helping-neighbors looked like. We will come out stronger, just like we did then, and like we always do!

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