Seven Stills, the popular local brewery and distillery, is no longer making beer and whiskey — it’s now blending and bottling hand sanitizer. The team is joining other distilleries that have already made the transition, including St George Spirits in Alameda and Falcon Spirits in Richmond, as well as others across the country. But Seven Stills is the largest distillery in the city to step in, thanks to their huge new production facility in Mission Bay. Seven Stills says that it’s now selling hand sanitizer to Kaiser Permanente, the San Francisco Police Department, and nonprofit organizations, with hopes of pumping out tens of thousands of bottles a week.
“We’re doing this because we can,” says co-founder Tim Obert. “These doctors, nurses, and police officers still have to go to work. There are no products on the market, because everyone has been hoarding them. We can make it. So we should be making it.” Hand sanitizer is largely made from ethanol, which is highly flammable, and needs to be diluted down, then blended with hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, and sterile water. Obert explains that the process for making hand sanitizer is very different from distilling whiskey, in fact, his team isn’t distilling anything, it’s more that distilleries like theirs have the correct equipment to safely blend and package the ingredients.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Seven Stills. The brewery and distillery opened the massive new facility in Mission Bay in November, overhauling 22,000 square feet for $11 million. Then in February, the state suspended its production license for 90 days over violations of ABC regulations, prompting the company to permanently close its Mission and Bayview locations, and temporarily close its Sunset location.
When officials ordered bars, wineries, and breweries to close down to slow the spread of coronavirus, that shutdown might actually help Seven Stills run out the clock on that license suspension. But that doesn’t mean they’re in the clear: though after the suspension but before the shutdown, its Mission Bay facility remained open, it still has not been able to produce any beer or whiskey, even as its taproom continued to serve food, beer, whiskey, and cocktails. With its taproom’s dining area temporarily closed by the shelter-in-place, Obert had to send most of his employees home, and he says that he worries about them the most.
For now, Seven Stills is still offering delivery for food and drinks, but only by delivery: beer and whiskey fans are not allowed to stop by and pick their orders up. That’s because the with its pivot to sanitizer production, strict protocols must be put into place, with the goal of eliminating cross contamination.
Now, the taproom’s bar, dining room, and beer garden have all been converted into a hand sanitizer production line. “The beer garden is full of plastic bottles,” says Obert. “Just pallets and pallets of plastic bottles.” Their first and biggest customer is Kaiser, starting with an order for 10,000 bottles, although the healthcare company actually requested 80,000. Obert says the biggest limitation to production right now is pump caps, labels, and even boxes, as supplies are dwindling. “If people have resources for supplies, please help us,” Obert says. “We need plastic pump caps, labels, boxes, and ethanol. We don’t know where we’ll get our supplies for next month. This is impacting across industries.”
Other customers include San Francisco’s department of Public Works (1,500 bottles) and the SFPD (500 bottles), with the hope that even more hospitals, police departments, public agencies, and nonprofits will also place orders. Seven Stills is also accepting donations to help smaller nonprofits place orders, and Obert says they also have a few bottles to sell to the general public. Those interested in making donations or placing orders can do so here.