WESTERLY — The operators of Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island are using their sister venture, South County Distillers, to make hand sanitizer, a sought-after commodity in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Jennifer and Alan Brinton, the married couple who own Grey Sail, had planned to soon start producing whiskey and vodka, but the virus changed their plans.

"We just got our license two weeks ago, which means we are officially able to distill, but we really can't start now," Jennifer Brinton said in an interview last week.

Instead of a new whiskey or vodka, the Brintons are using the distillery equipment to produce Launch, a liquid hand sanitizer.

"I came up with the name on a whim, with the thought being the economy needs a new launch," Jennifer Brinton said.

The idea for making hand sanitizer came about through conversations between the Brintons and Christopher Campagnari, a friend of the couple, who is helping with development of the distillery. Campagnari, a physician at Wood River Health Services, read an article about a distillery that had turned to hand sanitizer to help with the fight against spread of the virus.

The fermentation process started early last week and the first batch of Launch is expected to be ready in days. Brinton said the company will produce multiple batches. Each batch is expected to produce the equivalent of 200 8-ounce bottles, which the company plans to distribute for free. Campagnari and Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce are expected to help develop a list of agencies that the product will be given to.

The virus has significantly slowed Grey Sail's operations. The company's sales force was layed off and production of beer and ale is down to just 10% of normal output, Brinton said. Bars and restaurants, including Grey Sail's Canal Street tap room, are closed, which means the company is now largely dependent on sales at package stores. Beer-to-go sales are also available at the Canal Street headquarters.

"We're literally playing it day by day ... we're working to keep the rest of our staff employed," Brinton said.

Making hand sanitizer and donating it for free is one in a line of community-boosting steps taken by the Brintons and their company which started operations in 2011. They played a significant role in the Bring Back the Beach effort following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and are go-to supporters of youth sports and social service agencies in the area.

"It's a nice project. There's a community need and we have the equipment, so why not make the most of it," Brinton said."We're excited for it. We're not excited that we have to do it but we have always taken a lot of pride in being a community partner. We're happy we can contribute."

Lisa Konicki, Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce president, said the Launch hand sanitizer effort is simply another example of the leadership Brinton, who is currently serving as the chamber's board chairwoman, has displayed for years.

"This effort by Grey Sail is very generous and addresses a vital community need, but honestly, it is not surprising to me. This neighborhood business has demonstrated outstanding community support and creativity since the year they opened, when they launched a Bring Back the Beach fundraising beer to support the Chamber’s Superstorm Sandy business recovery fund.

"The Brintons are known for their generosity and their ingenuity, and have made community giving, in good times and in bad, part of their core business model," Konicki said.

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