Sandstone Distillery Nominated For Economic Courage
Sandstone Distillery Nominated for an Economic Courage Award
Photos from left to right: “Every drop of alcohol we made for months and months went into hand sanitizer. Hell of a thing to do with what could’ve been a nice bourbon or vodka,” said John. Justin and John Bourdon. Distillery dog, Barley. Photos courtesy of Sandstone Distillery.
At the Thurston EDC, we define ‘Economic Courage’ as a leader, a business, nonprofit or organization that, while facing economic uncertainty and a radical retraction of “business as usual,” took extraordinary steps to provide a service, a product, and or a support service that made a positive impact to the community and or employees of their organization.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Sandstone Distillery showed Economic Courage, and they have been nominated for an Economic Courage Award!
We asked Sandstone Distillery co-owner and distiller John Bourdon to answer some questions about the past year and how his business took extraordinary steps to make a positive impact on our community. His answers are below.
Thurston EDC: What was your biggest challenge this year, and how did you solve it?
Sandstone Distillery: From March on, it was how to make enough hand sanitizer to fill the need. We were supplying the Army, Navy, Airforce, Fire departments and police, businesses from a hundred miles away were coming out the Wright Road because we created our alcohol from scratch. Bulk alcohol was scarcer than toilet paper for a long time. Isopropyl alcohol (the stuff you don’t drink) is what is used as the biggest ingredient for hand sanitizer but, you can use ethel alcohol (the drinking stuff) as well. Most distilleries only used the isopropyl out of a batch, keeping the ethyl alcohol to bottle. (a good business move) Our business philosophy has always been ‘do the right thing, and the rest will work itself out.’ So, every drop of alcohol we made for months and months went into hand sanitizer. (Hell of a thing to do with what could’ve been a nice bourbon or vodka!) A big shout out to Fish Brewing! They had some 12 to 14 THOUSAND gallons of not very good wine on hand and donated it to the cause. Me or Justin (my son) would take the truck down to Fish, pump 700 gallons into totes, bring it back to Sandstone, and distill it to the purity required to meet the World Health Organizations’ formula for hospital-grade sanitizer. The challenge was we could still produce about 20 gallons of the high-proof alcohol in 24 hours. It took 2 hours to heat up (that’s when I would sleep). It would run for 20 hours (and had to be babysat) then cool down for 2 hours. (and slept again) this went on for over 6 months and ‘bout killed me.
Thurston EDC: What was the biggest change in your business?
Sandstone Distillery: We completely stopped producing any drinkable alcohol and solely produced to make hand sanitizer. We also commissioned a large distillation column to produce 15 times the amount per hour to try to keep up with the need. Justin picked up two pallets of Stainless-steel flat bar and copper sheets, Tru Point Metalworks in Rochester, WA, pulled off a real work of art in just 5 weeks. If I were to order one, it would be at least a year, more likely two, before I would have it.
Thurston EDC: Will these changes be permanent, or will you go back to the way things were before?
Sandstone Distillery: Life is back to normal production-wise, and for those that really liked the hand sanitizer we produced, we have a pretty good inventory for them.
Thurston EDC: What is the biggest thing you learned during the last year related to your business?
Sandstone Distillery: That big government agencies can be very flexible with their ridged regulations if they want to! And that we live in a community that cares, working together for the greater good. So many times, an agency or business wanted 5 or 10 gallons. If I did that, then someone would go without that day. So, I’d tell them I could do 2 so that everyone had some on hand. Come back in two days, and I will have more made. Everyone understood and worked together, making extra trips without complaining because by doing so, they knew that they were helping everyone else to have hand sanitizer every day.
Thurston EDC: Please share a story or words of wisdom from your experience over the last year.
Sandstone Distillery: People were terrified, older folks, people with cancer and other immune-suppressing illnesses. They would show up here from sometimes quite a distance with tears in their eyes, so grateful for what we were doing and getting some sanitizer. “We can’t find it ANYWHERE!” I heard time and time again. I cried with total strangers in March and April more than I have ever cried in my entire life.
The donations that people would leave to help was emotionally overwhelming. After being asked so many times, we put a paper bag on the counter, “Donations not requested but appreciated.” All went to pay for the column to produce more.
As a family and a business, we were doing what needed to be done, no big deal. At the end of the day, opening up the thank you cards and letters, reading them one by one, was so humbling, so emotional, the tears would flow again.
Thurston EDC: Words of wisdom?
Sandstone Distillery: Do the right thing. It will all work out when you do.