Harvard distillery steps up for county first responders

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Rush Creek said it will not charge for its hand sanitizer. They are asking only for donations from for-profit businesses and personal-use individuals. (Photo courtesy of Rush Creek Distilling Company)

In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of hand sanitizers as a protective tool for first responders and the general population has proven to be a primary concern.

On the western border of McHenry County, the Rush Creek Distilling Company in Harvard saw the need and a repurposed use for their equipment. Local police, fire, and rescue departments and districts will benefit from its production on a gratis basis.

After registering with the federal Food and Drug Administration, they have set about the task to mix batches of the cleanser for immediate use, according to World Health Organization guidelines. However, obtaining some of the raw materials in its composition, specifically rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, has been a difficult acquisition from the company’s suppliers.

“It’s basically a supply-and-demand item, at this point, and is the toughest to get,” said Mark Strickler, a partner in the distillery ownership group. “We’re doing this strictly to get us all through these times. We wanted to help out, we saw the change in federal law, and read a lot of information allowing us to do this. The batches need 72 hours, a resting period, for the molecules to intermingle and mix properly.”

With the restaurant and operations closed in mid-March, following an executive order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a March 18 emergency order by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau came on its heels and gave permission for distilleries with valid licenses to begin producing hand sanitizers through June 30. The contingency was to follow the World Health Organization guidelines for production that included exact measures of denatured or undernatured, ethanol, glycerol, and hydrogen peroxide.

Putting the distilleries equipment back into service for a good cause was a “no-brainer.” Strickler decided to follow through, when he became aware of other distilleries making hand sanitizers.

“We use rubbing alcohol as a denaturing agent at 5 percent, and 80 percent alcohol by volume, as part of the process … overall it’s about 85 percent alcohol,” he said.

Other Harvard businesses have gotten involved by donating funds and raw materials, such as pet treat and pet food manufacturer, Pedigree Ovens, which is supplying bottles and glycerin. “That’s thanks to my brother, Kurt, who runs Pedigree. His business card says, ‘Top Dog,’” Strickler said.

Consolidated Container Company, also in Harvard, has contributed supplies, and labels for the bottles were donated by Woodstock-based Copy Express. The idea is to get the product to first responders, who come by the business located at 1501 W. Diggins Street.

The fire protection districts of Union and Marengo, along with the Marengo, Woodstock, and Crystal Lake police departments have all received supplies from Rush Creek. Larger quantities are expected for emergency personnel, as the process goes along.

“We’re very appreciative of the donations and that they are taking care of McHenry County first responders,” said Marengo Fire Protection District Chief John Kimmel. “We were able to get almost three gallons of hand sanitizer, and it’s being dispersed between the fire and rescue personnel. The hand sanitizer is a very crucial item for us.”

Rush Creek is offering up to two 4-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer. Rush Creek said it will not charge for its hand sanitizer. They are asking only for donations from for-profit businesses and personal-use individuals. A limited amount of hand sanitizer is available Friday (1-5 p.m.), Saturday (Noon-4 p.m.), and Sunday (11 a.m.-3 p.m.). They recommend arriving early before supplies run out. Their spirits and apparel are also available for purchase. For updates, visit their website at https://rushcreekdistilling.com/hand-sanitizer/ or visit their Facebook page.

“A lot of people have come together on this, and it’s just to get us through,” said Strickler. “My hope is that we’re not talking about this stuff in a month, but rather that we are getting back to normal business and distilling our products for everyone to enjoy.”