The Scottish WhiskY Industry’s contribution to the Production of Hand Sanitiser


In March, the Scotch Whisky industry mobilised quickly in the support of health services, emergency services, local communities and other industries to play their part in providing hand sanitiser and ethanol. As a key ingredient in the manufacture of medical grade hand sanitiser, high-strength ethanol was in high demand throughout the public and private sectors as they worked to keep colleagues, patients and customers safe. Distillers of all sizes were keen to support those on the frontline of fighting coronavirus and keeping the country going, wherever they could.

In the early stages of the UK-wide lockdown, the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) Industry team worked closely with government and relevant authorities to understand the specific rules and controls surrounding the production of hand sanitiser from ethanol. This was crucial in speeding up the process of getting ethanol and hand sanitiser distributed safely.

The SWA set up an online portal, aimed at efficiently linking Scotch Whisky distillers, related industry suppliers and distribution partners and organisations seeking hand sanitiser. The portal connected distillers producing hand sanitiser or high strength ethanol with those who could provide key ingredients, other supplies – such as bottles, pump-action closures and labels – and companies willing to help distribute sanitiser to organisations and communities in need.

The response to the SWA’s hand sanitiser portal in its first few months was phenomenal: over 170 organisations submitted their details from throughout Scotland and the UK. At its peak, pledges made via portal totalled more than 1.5 million litres of high-strength ethanol every week, which is enough to produce a bottle of sanitiser for every household in the UK. The portal remains live on the SWA website, and is available to link suppliers with those who need it as the country starts to return to the workplace, schools, community health services.

In March, Diageo pledged to enable the creation of more than eight million bottles of hand sanitiser, by donating up to two million litres of alcohol to manufacturing partners, to help protect frontline healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19. In Scotland, Diageo distributed more than 55,000 bottles of free hand sanitiser to communities where the company has distilleries and operations, including care homes, care in the community staff and people volunteering to help the vulnerable. Ewan Andrew, President, Global Supply and Procurement at Diageo, said: “This initiative has very much been driven by our people at our sites the length and breadth of Scotland who want to contribute locally in their communities, especially those who are in the frontline of this crisis. I am extremely proud of every employee and our suppliers who have contributed to this project, from the scientific and regulatory teams who developed the process through all the colleagues working to make and distribute it to the community.”

Niall Mitchell, UK Operations Director for Bacardi, whose six Scotch Whisky sites produced over 15,000 litres of hand sanitiser for distribution to frontline workers in Scotland, said: “Our Dewar’s whisky operations centre in the East End of Glasgow and our distilleries across Scotland are proud supporters of their local communities, so supplying hand sanitiser to local healthcare workers and charities like the Scottish SPCA was incredibly rewarding. As a family-owned company, doing the right thing is in Bacardi’s DNA and we’ll continue doing all we can to help make a difference in the fight against COVID-19.”

Many distillers also committed to manufacturing hand sanitiser on-site for their local communities, which was particularly important in Scotland’s rural towns and villages. For example, Whyte & Mackay supplied hand sanitiser to the NHS and local services from its Invergordon distillery; Isle of Harris Distillers, based in the Outer Hebrides, worked closely with a local cosmetics company to make hand sanitiser for health service providers on the island.

Glasgow Distillery mobilised to produce hand sanitiser for the local community in the early stages of the UK lockdown. Co-founder Liam Hughes, said, “We produced hand sanitiser in line with guidance received from the SWA and followed a set of specific instructions from the World Health Organisation, which helped ensure all hand sanitiser meets production and labelling requirements.

“Over the course of a matter of weeks, we distributed 11,000 litres of hand sanitiser in 2.5L containers to over 400 NHS services, charities and organisations including hospital wards, care homes, police services, GP surgeries, mental health services, Alzheimers Scotland and many more.”

In May, Chivas Brothers became the first pro-bono supplier of hand sanitiser to NHS Scotland, and the company have donated over 163,000 litres of hand sanitiser free of charge to the NHS and local communities. Chivas Brothers also commenced employee-led contact-free deliveries across its Scotch whisky heartland of Speyside and on Orkney, where its Scapa distillery is located. Employees from the Miltonduff distillery delivered to charities and organisations supporting the vulnerable using Chivas fleet vehicles.

The Scotch Whisky industry’s response to Covid-19 was a collective effort, and the SWA’s portal figures demonstrate just a fraction of what was done at local and national levels to supply sanitiser and ethanol to those who needed it urgently. Scotland’s distilleries and skilled workforce helped to make a real difference in the fight against the virus.