By Deb Everts

Two more Ellicottville businesses are trying to make a difference in the continuing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Steelbound Brewery & Distillery and Ellicottville Distillery have stepped up and modified their production lines to make essential hand sanitizer.

Steelbound owner William Bursee said he decided to convert his Ellicottville facility to produce hand sanitizer on a commercial scale about three weeks ago. He said it was when the pandemic was all over the news and businesses were asking to step up and do their part. 

Prior to this turn of events, Bursee wasn’t licensed to produce hand sanitizer in his distillery but, he said, New York state sent him a letter stating they would forego any extra paperwork in order for his facility to start producing the sanitizer. 

“The state gave us some rules and regulations to follow in order to produce it and they waived any extra permits or paperwork, so it made it simpler for us to be a part of this,” he explained.

Currently, the hand sanitizer is being produced in the Ellicottville facility. Bursee said they only had to add a couple of inexpensive poly-mixing tanks and other minimal equipment, so they could mix in peroxide and glycerol. 

“We have both a brewery and distillery there in the same building. It’s rare, but it really lends itself to producing hand sanitizer because you have to ferment before you can distill,” he said. “So, we can ferment sugar water on the brewery side, then pump it over to the distillery and distill it up into ethanol which is then used as a product for hand sanitizer.”

Bursee said sugar produces about 20 percent alcohol when fermented. After the sugar water is pumped over to the distillery, they extract that 20 percent out at about 190 proof. Then they water it down to get it to where it needs to be for hand sanitizer.

“We’re offering it in half-gallons so people can refill their small containers. We’re selling it for $25 a half-gallon,” he said. “We’re trying to get smaller containers, but we can’t get them right now. We also bought glass, half-gallon moonshine bottles that people can bring back for a refill.” 

Bursee thanked Berlin Packaging in Orchard Park for donating bottles and affixing the labels on the bottles that Steelbound is giving away to local hospitals. He also thanked Niagara Label in Akron for donating those labels. He said the bottles of sanitizer will be donated to Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville, Olean General and Brooks Memorial in Dunkirk.

Bursee said he received a call from the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) April 10 saying they had no hand sanitizer and they were reportedly using fingernail polish remover to clean. Because of their dire situation, he sent three cases of hand sanitizer to them the very same day.

This week, Steelbound is planning to produce hand sanitizer for the hospitals and then, the following week, produce for the public for two to three weeks before they do another run for the hospitals. Bursee said it’ll be available for the public at both his Springville and Ellicottville locations. 

“Our world is going to be different when this is over. We’re a hugging, shaking, kissing-kind of community and that’s the way we all are in Western New York,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to stop shaking hands, but I do think we’re going to start cleaning them more. I think hand sanitizer is going to be around now, after this.

“We might open a manufacturing facility to continue producing hand sanitizer,” Bursee continued. “Who knows? I think our essential products need to be made in the United States.”

Steelbound’s Ellicottville site is not currently producing beer, but there is plenty of beer for pick up. The facility is located at 6600, Route 219. For more details, contact the distillery at (716) 699-2042 or info@steelboundevl.com.

ELLICOTTVILLE DISTILLERY owner and head distiller Bryan Scharf said he decided to make hand sanitizer at his facility about four weeks ago. His decision was made after a significant number of people asked if he would make it and, because of that demand, he felt it was necessary to make it.

Scharf said they are currently making hand sanitizer for personal use in 2-ounce containers that are available for $2 each, and larger amounts for businesses in need. He said they donated 100 gallons of the sanitizer last week to the Cattaraugus County Emergency Medical Services to help area nursing homes, Olean General and the county building remain safe and sanitary.

“Our hand sanitizer is not leaving Western New York yet,” he said. “We want to take care of the local community before we extend ourselves too thin.”

Production of the sanitizer is being produced on a large scale. Scharf said he’s still trying to keep up with the rest of his distilling operation that produces a complete line of spirits. 

“I didn’t have to shut down anything — just had to change the method of distillation,” he said. “I’m distilling the alcohol to as high a proof as I can get, which is about 170 proof.”

Scharf said they’re not allowing anyone to come up and fill any containers anymore. At the time when they were doing that, they were looking for donations to help the community. 

“We had 3,000 bottles available this past weekend and we sold out in four hours,” he said. “We had to cut the limit from 12 to six bottles a person. We expect to have a bigger batch next weekend.”

Scharf said his hand sanitizer will be available at Park and Shop in Olean this week. He said they are not shipping any out right now, but he’s looking into it.

The distillery is currently open for curbside pickup on Saturdays only from noon to 6 p.m. Scharf said they are not taking pre-orders from here on, so it’s on a first come first serve basis. He said they are also offering cocktails to go. 

The Ellicottville Distillery is located at 5462 Robbins Road, near Ashford Junction. For more information, contact Scharf at (716) 597-6121 or bryan@ellicottvilledistillery.com.