Earlier this week, Harker parent Virag Saksena (Riva, grade 12, and Anya, grade 8) and his team at 10th Street Distillery were recognized on Facebook by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo for converting their business into a producer of hand sanitizer to assist medical personnel and homeless residents.
Saksena’s 10th Street Distillery normally produces single-malt whisky, but the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity. “Something clicked when I heard that first responders and hospitals that put their own lives at risk everyday were unable to get hand sanitizer,” Saksena said. “Our distillery has a never-ending supply of the key ingredient for sanitizer: alcohol. So it was a no brainer to help out by making sanitizer.”
Shifting from making spirits to hand sanitizers was not a quick and easy process, Saksena recalled. “Before we could start production, we needed formulation approved by [the] FDA,” he said. “We didn’t want to make something which was ineffective or possibly even dangerous based upon internet recipes.” The FDA’s requirement that hand sanitizers be 80 percent alcohol was one of the main obstacles, because whisky must be distilled below 80 percent to be in accordance with the law. “Our whisky is typically distilled around 70 percent and aged at 55-62 percent,” said Saksena. “So we had to figure out how to change the process to reach 80 percent-plus alcohol content.”
The original intention, Saksena said, was to donate the hand sanitizers, “but most hospitals and cities offered to cover our costs. They had the budgets but couldn’t find the product.” Moreover, California-bound trucks carrying hand sanitizer were being diverted to other areas by the federal government. “So they wanted local companies to produce the product,” Saksena noted. Each week about 500 gallons is being provided to the city of San Jose; 50 to 100 gallons are being sent to El Camino Hospital; and the city of Santa Clara is receiving 50 gallons. A nominal fee is charged to cover costs. “We are also working with homeless shelters and health care providers,” Saksena said. “Some have budgets and can pay for it, others can’t. One of the things we will be doing is to sell to commercial business providing essential services and use that to subsidize donations for charities.”
When the demand for hand sanitizer has comfortably receded, Saksena and the staff at 10th Street Distillery are hoping to “go back to doing what we do best: distilling single-malt whiskies.” As they began making sanitizers, Saksena was pleased to discover that their whiskies had been winners at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, earning Gold and Double Gold.
For now, Saksena said, “I feel blessed that we have found a way to aid our community in these trying times.”