The past six weeks have been anything but normal for Andrew Martin.  

Martin, who co-owns Thistle Finch Distilling and Shot and Bottle with his wife, Kate, not only had to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in Pennsylvania and the repercussions on the restaurant industry. The Martins are also new parents.  

Six weeks ago, they welcomed a daughter, Winnie, into the world. And soon after, found themselves in a tough position of laying off many of their employees.  

Of the roughly 20 employees that used to help run Shot and Bottle and Thistle Finch, only about five remain, Andrew Martin said.  

“I’ve got a car full of takeout boxes [for Shot and Bottle] right now,” he said Wednesday afternoon while waiting for another -- very different -- customer pickup. “Balancing time is definitely a challenge.”  

Story continues below video. 

When Thistle Finch owner found out a distillery in Washington state started making sanitizer after the coronavirus outbreak, he thought he could do the same thing. Since then, Thistle Finch has bottled 300 gallons of the disinfectant, helping keep local places like nursing homes and post offices clean.

While he was talking about the challenges he faces amid the ever-changing landscape that Pennsylvanians have been living in since the novel coronavirus first appeared in the state, two Pennsylvania State Police troopers showed up.  

The two troopers weren’t there for a liquor license violation – or any other wrong-doing – but were there to pick up two boxes full of sanitizer.  

Usually, Martin and his head distiller would be working on distilling whiskey, vodka or Gin. But for the past two weeks, they’ve been using their “waste products” to bottle up sanitizer 

Three-hundred gallons of the stuff.  

“Instead of bottling vodka, we’re making sanitizer,” head distiller Arvin Alston II said after climbing down from cleaning out the distiller.  

“We’ve been hoarding that stuff,” he added, pointing to a collection of big black plastic drums, full of the “waste.”  

The sanitizer is 140-proof, which is 70% alcohol. The recommendation for disinfectant use, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  

Martin said that they’re out of the 300 gallons they had on hand.  

The disinfectant mixture has gone to nursing homes, food purveyors, medical offices, grocery stores and police and fire departments 

On Wednesday, 100 gallons of the Thistle Finch disinfectant sat waiting to go to the United State Post Office in Harrisburg.  

"It’s very gratifying,” Martin said. “It feels good to have a way where we can actually engage and do something other than just stay at home.”  

Despite the chaotic whirlwind of coronavirus news funneling in daily, working on hand-bottling jugs of sanitizer and working on a lack of sleep thanks to fatherhood, Martin is happy that his newest addition to his family is happy and healthy, “and that’s really all that matters,” he said.  

The process 

Grain is cooked in a mash tun, converting the starches to sugar; yeast is added and the mash is moved to fermenters for three to four days; then the byproduct is pumped into a distiller. 

Usually, the first gallon or so that the batch produces is “waste” because it has “all the stuff you don’t want to drink,” Martin said, like methanol, which in certain doses, could be toxic. This is the alcohol that mostly makes up the disinfectant.  

Distilleries in Lancaster County and beyond have also taken to this idea. 

In a Facebook Post, Lancaster Distilleries, Columbia Kettle Works and Zoetropolis said they're collaborating on a sanitizer, and distilleries in York and Dauphin counties have also followed suit, making hand sanitizer by mixing in store-bought aloe.

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