Food & Drink

The Surprising Way Durham Distillery is Helping Fight Coronavirus

Quick thinking leads to a switch from making gin to sanitizing solution—and offering it for free to Triangle restaurants

Durham Distillery.

As the coronavirus continues to spread and many would-be restaurant patrons opt to avoid public places, the hospitality industry is preparing to take a hit. In North Carolina, though, Durham Distillery has engineered a clever solution to help keep Triangle-area restaurants clean and ease diners’ minds: a readily available, locally-made sanitizing liquid strong enough to kill viruses on contact, including COVID-19.

Melissa and Lee Katrincic.

Last week, Melissa and Lee Katrincic, owners of Durham Distillery, which makes Conniption Gin, stopped in for drinks at a few of their usual haunts. “We sensed that anxiety was starting to build,” Melissa says. “We asked our friends behind the bar how they were feeling. They said they have enough cleaning solution for now, but with the run on hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies, they were worried. We just started thinking, how do we help?

The answer was close by. Durham Distillery has an active permit with the state-run Alcohol Beverage Control commission (ABC), which allows the couple’s company to buy corn-based ethanol at 95% alcohol by volume. That permit, coupled with Lee Katrincic’s experience from his twenty-four-year tenure as a pharmaceutical chemist, gave the company both the ability and the means to create the cleaner earlier this week. Mixing their ethanol with distilled water brings the solution down to 70% alcohol by volume, matching levels recommended for sanitizing solutions by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization. So instead of producing gin, the distillery has temporarily switched focus to producing their cleaning solution.

“Their innovative idea is, as far as we can tell, the first type of this request we’ve ever gotten,” says Jeff Strickland, a representative for the state’s ABC commission. Twenty-four hours after Durham Distillery submitted their proposal to the North Carolina ABC, both that commission and the state’s Department of Health and Human Services had approved it, and the Katrincics began producing the solution and donating it to local restaurant and bar owners.

“This is a way of keeping our staff and guests safe, which is obviously incredibly important to us,” says Gray Brooks, who runs Durham restaurants Pizzeria Toro, Jack Tar & The Colonel’s Daughter, and Littler. He, along with other restaurant owners from Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, including Sean Umstead from Kingfisher and Scott Crawford at Crawford and Son, are using the distillery’s solution beginning today. “This is hard for a lot of industries, but hospitality is high among that list. We got one liter for each of our restaurants, which I hope is more than enough,” Brooks says.

photo: Courtesy of Durham Distillery
The cleaning solution.

The solution is meant to be sprayed on high-touch surfaces, such as entryways, sinks, doorknobs, counters, and faucets, and left to evaporate. Interested restaurants and bars must schedule a training appointment to learn how to use the solution responsibly—the ethanol makes it highly flammable—and bring their own high-density polyethylene jar or sturdy glass container. Melissa estimates they’ve hosted at least twenty-five appointments today, with the same amount already scheduled for tomorrow.

“The Triangle has such a tight hospitably community, and we realized distillery owners are some of the only ones in this position to help,” Melissa says. “This is what we know how to do.”