(REASON) – For many American craft distillers, 2020 was already one of their worst years ever. The COVID-19-related closure of tasting rooms and cocktail bars, loss of tourism, and inability to offer in-store sampling slashed their sales revenue and cut them off from their customers. Then this week, just as it seemed they'd made it through the worst of a terrible year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had one more surprise in store: The agency delivered notice to distilleries that had produced hand sanitizer in the early days of the pandemic that they now owe an unexpected fee to the government of more than $14,000.
"I was in literal disbelief when I read it yesterday," says Aaron Bergh, president and distiller at Calwise Spirits in Paso Robles, California. "I had to confirm with my attorney this morning that it's true." The surprise fee caught distillers completely off guard, throwing the already suffering industry into confusion.
When the onset of the pandemic led to a massive increase in demand for hand sanitizer this spring, many distilleries stepped up to alleviate the sudden shortage. The main ingredient in sanitizer is ethanol, which they are in the business of making, albeit typically in more fun and tasty formats. More than 800 distilleries pivoted from spirits to sanitizer, offering it for sale or in many cases donating it to their communities free of charge. Their prompt action helped ensure supplies of sanitizer when it was otherwise unobtainable.
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