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Coronavirus: How the UK drinks trade is responding

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, the drinks industry is stepping in to support local communities and businesses.

One of the major contributions being made by the industry so far is the use of leftover or waste alcohol to make hand sanitiser – something which is in desperately short supply in supermarkets and pharmacies amid the rapid spread of Covid-19.

Here are some of the companies making hand sanitiser, and making other efforts, to help the world through the coronavirus outbreak:

  • French luxury brands conglomerate LVMH, which owns whisky makers including Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, is using its perfume and cosmetics production lines to make hand sanitiser. The factories ordinarily make perfumes and cosmetics for the likes of Christian Dior and Givenchy, but have been repurposed following the shortage of hand sanitiser which has gripped Europe in light of the outbreak. The company said: "LVMH will continue to honour this commitment for as long as necessary, in connection with the French health authorities."
  • Scotland's Deeside Distillery, maker of the world's strongest gin, is shifting some of its production to hand sanitiser. It is mixing its 87% ABV Still River Uncut Gin with aloe vera and vegetable oil to make 4,000 bottles of sanitiser that it is handing out to local schools and foodbanks. Other UK distilleries making the move to sanitiser production include Daftmill in Fife (pictured), Fen Spirits in Cambridgeshire, Psychopomp in Bristol and the Isle of Wight Distillery (which has named its sanitiser Wight Wash).
  • Distilleries in the US are also using their production lines to make hand sanitiser. Among them are: Cardinal Spirits in Indiana, which has made its hand sanitiser available to distillery visitors and groups in need including offices and health care visitors as well as issuing hand sanitiser recipes online; Durham Distillery in South Carolina, which is giving away 2 litres of sanitiser to any business which makes an appointment to pick it up; Eight Oaks Farm Distillery in Pennsylvania, which is planning to scale up sanitiser production to give more away to local charities and farmers' markets; and New York Distilling Company, which has used its Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin to make sanitiser that it was giving away to NYC's restaurants and bars before they were forced to close.
  • Drinks producer and marketer Distell has committed to producing 100,000 litres of alcohol to make hand sanitisers and other hygiene and disinfectant products. These will be distributed to vulnerable communities in its home country of South Africa, which it will identify with help from the government.
  • Pernod Ricard UK has pledged to donate £250,000 to support The Drinks Trust as it helps industry workers affected by the outbreak, while sister company Chivas Brothers has pledged to supply 100,000 litres of ethanol to UK manufacturers of hand sanitiser to help combat the national shortage.
  • Rum maker Dictador has pledged to donate 15,000 litres of alcohol from its Destilería Colombiana for use in hand sanitiser production in Colombia.
  • In non-sanitser-related news, Guinness is pledging a total of £1 million to support bartenders across the UK alongside a similar scheme in the Republic of Ireland, through which pub and bar owners will be able to claim funds to help them pay staff's wages. The brand's owner, Diageo, is also offering people working in the drinks trade the chance to take a complimentary Diageo Bar Academy training course online, providing practical advice and handy tips. Diageo is also giving more flexibility to its smaller customers to help them access products more easily and manage their cash flow as the crisis continues. From Monday 23 March, the drinks group will also be operating an information phone line to help licenced business owners - both on and off-trade - who want to access commercial support from the government; the line, provided by professional services group Grant Thornton, is 0207 728 2556.
  • In the US, Luxco, the producer of Everclear Grain Alcohol, has donated $100,000 to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy Covid-19 Response Fund. The fund is focused on supporting non-profit organisations working directly with communities that are most vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
  • London-based gin distiller Sipsmith is supporting the UK's beleaguered pub and bar trade through a partnership with The Drinks Trust (formerly The Benevolent), which offers wellbeing support to drinks industry workers. Those who pledge £20 or more to Sipsmith's Go Fund Me page (100 per cent of the donation will go to The Drinks Trust) will receive a code to order 12 complimentary cans of Light Sipsmith G&T from its website, including free delivery.
  • Ramsbury Single Estate Distillery has pledged to help the spirits industry with its new Ramsbury & Friends 'Virtual Tip Jar'. Buy a voucher for your favourite drinks venue - be that pub, restaurant or bar - and Ramsbury will match every pound you spend, donating it to the business as a tip. Vouchers bought through the scheme are valid until the end of 2020. Budweiser Brewing Group's UK and Ireland arm has done something similar through its Save Pub Life campaign; the scheme allows people to purchase gift cards to be used in their favourite pub when it reopens, and the AB InBev subsidiary has pledged to matchfund donations up to a total of £1 million. 
  • London's Camden Town Brewery is joining in with the trend for digital social engagements by opening a virtual pub: the Camden Bre.www.ery Bar. It's collecting 'tips' through JustGiving for Hospitality Action's Covid-19 Emergency Fund, which is giving one-off grants to eligible workers in the sector facing sudden hardship due to the pandemic.
  • Wemyss Malts is offering a £10 Uber Eats vouchers with any purchase on its website worth more than £40. The company says it will issue vouchers via email within 24 hours of the order being placed. The offer, which started on 18 March, is a bid by Wemyss Malts to help both customers and smaller, local businesses which sell through Uber Eats; it has also offered to promote small independent traders through its emails to customers and its social media channels (email info@wemyssmalts.com for more details).
  • Jameson and Powers whiskey maker Irish Distillers has joined forces with Mervue Laboratories in Cork to start mass production of hand sanitiser. The companies say that together, they have the necessary products and supply chain to go into large-scale sanitiser production. Irish Distillers has had conversations with the UK's Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to discuss the free supply of its sanitiser, which will be distributed by the HSE to hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The company said: "We are committed to maintaining supply to the maximum levels possible for as long as possible."
  • Suffolk brewer and distiller Adnams is working with health and social care teams at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Norfolk, providing alcohol from its distillery for a hand sanitiser programme which will support the NHS and local organisations in need. Fergus Fitzgerald, head brewer at Adnams, said: "It's important that we all do what we can to help one another."
On-trade venues around the world are expected to take a significant hit from the coronavirus outbreak amid social distancing measures, self-isolation and enforced closures. Several American cities and European countries, including Italy, Spain and Ireland, have forced pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs to shut. However, governments are taking measures to support their hospitality and leisures sectors through the disruption.

18 March 2020 - Bethany Whymark