HARMONY, Minn. — The operation at Harmony Spirits has been altered just a year after it opened for business. Now the main focus of the craft distillery is to produce hand sanitizer to help thwart the spread of COVID-19 in Fillmore County.

The business put out a press release on March 31 about its decision to make hand sanitizer, which will be made from the recipe specified by the World Health Organization. The sanitizer will be available for sale at the distillery to the public starting on April 6. Harmony Spirits plans to sell at local grocery stores, liquor stores and other businesses in the area as well.

Jim Simpson, Andy Craig and Larry Tammel are co-owners of Harmony Spirits. The distillery was established in March 2018 and started distilling a year later.

Simpson said the business has been a great experience so far, but the last few weeks have been difficult, with the coronavirus pandemic upending businesses everywhere.

"Our tasting room has been shut down, and that's a good part of our business," said Simpson. "So we've been sitting in this holding pattern."

Distilleries across the country clambered to be in the position to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizer last week, after the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau changed its guidelines to allow permitted distillers to make it.

Many people looking to buy hand sanitizer in recent weeks have failed to find any due to the national shortage of sanitation products amid the pandemic.

One of the first people to reach out to Harmony Spirits for hand sanitizer was Don Kullot, emergency management director for Fillmore County, who was looking to find sanitizer for the nursing homes in the county.

"There was a need in the community for it," said Simpson of hand sanitizer.

Jimmy’s Salad Dressing and Dips, a gourmet dressing company based in Stewartville, Minn., is purchasing a few drums of the sanitizer to bottle and give to its employees.

Best Buy's corporate campus in the Twin Cities even reached out to Harmony Spirits for "a lot" of sanitizer, said Simpson, but the volume was far too large for them to handle and package.

"A lot of places are ramping up, so I think it'll be a fulfilled need," said Simpson of sanitizer demand. "Local manufacturers of alcohol have been able to step up and make this happen."

Simpson said what they enjoy most about the move to make sanitizer is being there for their community in need.

"It's just nice to be able to do something positive for our community and help people out," said Simpson.

Grain to glass

"All the grain that we use to make our products is raised right here in Fillmore County," said Simpson.

The business has 47 different farmers that it purchases corn and oats from to make vodka, bourbon and whiskey. Co-owner Andy Craig purchases and picks up all the grain Harmony Spirits uses and takes it to his dad's farm nearby, where it's ground.

"Then we cook it, ferment it, distill it, then bottle and label it right here on-site," said Simpson. "All handcrafted in small batches."

Partnering up

Harmony Spirits sourced alcohol from an ethanol plant in Missouri to make the sanitizer, but Simpson said they didn't have the capacity to take an entire truckload and it wasn't possible at the time they were looking to buy anything less than that.

"We are setup to craft spirits for people to enjoy, so our per-gallon cost is astronomical," said Simpson.

As a result, a team of four distilleries went in on a truckload with Harmony Spirits, including another Minnesota company, Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove.

Simpson said the hand sanitizer sales will help sustain Harmony Spirits in a time when they needed some sort of break.

"A: It's nice to have something to do, because we were all bored out of our minds," said Simpson. "And it makes the bank a lot happier, that we can continue to pay our mortgage."

It makes Simpson proud to see how Fillmore County and his community is handling the pandemic and for staying strong during a time of unease.

And the community has the back of Harmony Spirits, too.

"It's really good for the community, having Harmony Spirits here," said Harmony resident Jimmy Strozyk, who was at the distillery on March 31 seeing if the staff needed any help. "They've been so good to local businesses — that's how it is here, everybody helps everybody."

For updates on the availability of sanitizer, visit harmonyspirits.net or the Harmony Spirits Facebook page. Inquiries can also be directed to contact@harmonyspirits.net