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Black Button shifts from gin to germicide


Usually, a distiller wouldn’t want its product likened to sanitizer. But in the case of Black Button Distilling’s latest bottling, the comparison is apt.

A mock-up of Black Button's new hand sanitizer. - PHOTO PROVIDE BY BLACK BUTTON DISTILLING
  • A mock-up of Black Button's new hand sanitizer.
After all, the new product is hand sanitizer. The distillery on Railroad Street has switched 100 percent of its operations over to making the stuff, master distiller Jason Barrett confirmed in an interview Thursday. The nation is facing a hand sanitizer shortage in light of the coronavirus pandemic

The sanitizer contains a 190 proof spirit produced at the distillery blended with 1.45 percent glycerol, a thickener, and peroxide. It has a final proof of 160, meaning it’s 80 percent alcohol, well above what’s recommended for preventing coronavirus spread.

The sanitizer will be distributed in the distillery's 750 milliliter glass bottles to local hospitals, doctor’s offices, post offices, and other facilities in at-risk communities.

“On Sunday the governor called on non-essential businesses to start shutting down, so we started looking for ways to use what we had to help the community,” Barrett said.

Barrett put out a message through Monroe County at 11 p.m.. Wednesday night and had received 800 orders by 7 a.m. The distillery is currently in production mode and is set to finish their first batch of 200 bottles Thursday afternoon, he said. The distillery has enough ingredients to produce about 18,000 bottles worth of sanitizer.

“We’re going to keep going until we physically don’t have the resources to do it anymore,” Barrett said. “We have enough glycerol for about 300,000 bottles, but obviously we don’t have 300,000 bottles to use.”

Black Button is following in the footsteps of other craft distilleries across the country, who have also shifted to hand sanitizer production to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Nashville’s Corsair Artisan Distillery, New Tripoli, Pennsylvania’s Eight Oaks Farm Distillery, and Louisville, Kentucky’s Rabbit Hole Distiller are among the producers that have repurposed their liquor production facilities.

With the Black Button’s regular whiskey, gin, and vodka production suspended, Barrett said the distillery is splitting time between sanitizer production and operating curbside pick up of bottles and cocktail kits at their Railroad Street location. Even that is something he doesn’t want to invest too much time in.

“Honestly, if you want to support us, head to your local liquor store, support them, and buy one of our bottles,” Barrett said. “We want to devote our time entirely to this.”

Black Button opened in 2014 and is currently the only production distillery in the city of Rochester. That reality put the distillery in a unique position to provide critical aid during the pandemic, Barrett said.

“We are uniquely qualified to safely handle and bottle ethanol-based hand sanitizer, and we have an extensive network of contacts to bring bottles, labels, labor, and ingredients to bear,” Barrett said. “We are doing this to help our community, to hopefully save lives, and to get our employees back to work. We want to do our part in these unprecedented times.”

Black Button is seeking requests for hand sanitizer from daycares, homeless shelters, healthcare facilities, and any other essential service in need. They can be reached at

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached a