Blinking Owl Distillery Steps Up During Pandemic

How a distillery went from making vodka to hand sanitizer

With states around the country shutting down all but essential businesses, WePrint customer Blinking Owl Distillery stepped up to help. Wanting to keep as many workers employed as possible and help out the community, when county supervisors came calling, the business decided to switch from making spirits to hand sanitizer for first responders and medical professionals on the frontline of COVID-19.

The leaders of Blinking Owl Distillery now making hand sanitizer during pandemic instead of vodka.
Blinking Owl head distiller Ryan Friesen (left) and owners Brian and Robin Christenson.

Brian Christenson and his wife Robin, who own the Santa Ana, Calif.-based distillery, normally make handcrafted spirits like vodka, gin and whiskey. They’re one of the first in the state to hold the Type 74 Craft Distillers License. This allows the business to operate a tasting room and sell some bottles.

Initially, they were unsure if they wanted to wade through the regulations required to make hand sanitizer. However, with the government’s guidance and easement of restrictions to allow faster production, Blinking Owl decided to move ahead.

“As the need for sanitizer grew we decided that it was a great opportunity to keep some of our staff working, provide a product to people in need, and donate as much as we can to those in need,” said Brian Christenson.

Putting a temporary business plan in place

Switching their systems to make the hand sanitizer wasn’t difficult. However, logistics including sourcing bottling and packaging supplies has been tricky because of the high demand. Avery WePrint, who has been providing the company with its custom product labels since our launch, was happy to do a small part by donating the custom labels to Blinking Owl for the hand sanitizer. The distillery has already had requests for tens of thousands of gallons. They hope to be able to produce 2,000 gallons a week for bottling and distribution.

Owner Brian Christenson and head distiller  Ryan Friesen of Blinking Owl Distillery masked and ready to make hand sanitizer during pandemic
Friesen (left) and Brian Christenson take the necessary precautions when working.

To make the hand sanitizer to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) requirements, the distillery first makes a neutral spirit. This ethyl alcohol, which is the base of vodka, is also the base for hand sanitizer. So instead of adding water as they normally would for vodka, they are now adding hydrogen peroxide and glycerin.

“It is going to be a rough ride that will take quite some time to recover from. Do your best to stay healthy physically and mentally. Try to think outside the box for business opportunities that will allow you to make income during these uncertain times.”

Brian Christenson

The distillery has started producing everything from 2-ounce pocket-size hand sanitizers up to 55-gallon drums. They have already committed most of the supply. The large tubs and drums will head to local hospitals, fire departments, police stations and other medical facilities.

The pocket bottles will be passed out among the homeless population by county officials. And with scarcity among the general public, the company is also selling some 12-ounce pump bottles to the public.

More about Blinking Owl

Brian Christenson’s great grandfather, Fred P. Armbrust, was a bootlegger who had a still hidden on his dairy farm in a basement behind secret passageways. He secretly provided the local farmers with his homemade brew. Brian wanted to carry on that passion by providing legal “good spirits” to his community.

The distillery has been a WePrint customer since our launch ordering, custom labels for its products.

“The service has been fantastic for our small business and the quality is great,” Brian Christenson said. “And we were amazed about Avery donating so many labels to support our efforts.”

If you would like to help the distillery in their effort to provide hand sanitizer to volunteers, first responders, elderly care centers and restaurants, please visit BlinkingOwlDistillery.com to donate.

For other ideas, read Things Your Small Business Can Do During the Pandemic.

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Author: Melanie Neff

Melanie has an extensive writing background built on an impressive journalism foundation. As a journalist for USA Today and The Los Angeles Times for almost 20 years, she covered everything from the Los Angeles riots, fires and floods to LA Lakers and Clippers games and movie premieres. She followed her newspaper career with a long tenure covering commercial real estate financing and development. Melanie has currently been writing about small business marketing and labeling needs for the past 10 years. She thrives on reading, researching and expanding her knowledge of everything going on in today's business world and looks to provide the most valuable information she can to her readers.

4 thoughts on “Blinking Owl Distillery Steps Up During Pandemic”

  1. Lots of companies went to making hand cleaner, not to be good people but t continue to make some money. When gas prices went low the demand for ethanol also went down and with it the price so the local ethanol plant started making hand cleaner.

  2. Thank God for people like you all. You don’t find very many people that would do what you all did for no halo’s on your heads nor for seeing how much you could sell this for. Thank you all for doing what you have been doing. May God Bless each and every one of the family and the extended part of your family for doing something for man kind and not a hand held out for that ole mighty dollar. Like I said before THANK GOD FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND YOURS.

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