Moonshiner distills batches of sanitizer for IRS and community
Glen Price grew up grew up just outside Baltimore, Maryland. Visits to relatives in Philippi, West Virginia, introduced him to rural life, working farms and draft horses.
As an adult, he became an IT manager for the General Services Administration, a responsible role he has filled for 13 years. On weekends and evenings he made corn whiskey — legally.
Price started Black Draft Distillery in Martinsburg in 2014. He installed the distillery in a barn left empty after the passing of a cherished black Percheron Draft Horse named Biscuit. The West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC) pitched in resources to help Price open the business.
“They did indeed help get us rolling,” he said. “Business Coaches Mary Hott and Bob Marggraf pointed us in the right direction for permitting, business plans and marketing. We still touch base with them every few months.”
Price built a thriving business, cooking up small batch vodka, whiskey and bourbon. The distillery sourced locally grown corn, rye, and wheat. Within a couple of years, he added a new distillery building, a barrel-aging room, tanks and other upgrades.
The distillery has also added tours and a mercantile shop. The hard work was beginning to pay off with growing reputation and success. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world.
By mid-March, state governments were calling on pubs, bars, restaurants and a host of other businesses to close or restrict operations in an effort to contain the pandemic.
Glen Price, Owner of Black Draft Distillery
Coronavirus hits economy hard
“The economy dried up overnight,” Price said. “From local BBQ restaurants to print shops to crab shacks to donut and fry trucks to beard oil manufacturers, we’re right in this whole pool of small businesses. Their families rely on the economy to put food on the table. So, when this coronavirus hit, it really took a big toll on all of us.”
With the equipment, permits, and a supply of alcohol on hand, Black Draft Distillery was in a position to produce sanitizer, already in high demand and short supply.
“It started with a phone call from the U.S. Capitol, asking if we could supply 500 gallons of sanitizer per week for the next six months,” Price said. “Then the Internal Revenue Service called, followed by Domino’s Pizza and Lendmark Financial Services.”
The phone kept ringing and the need kept growing.
Finding solutions and allies
As a small batch distiller of alcohol, Black Draft had produced only 300 gallons of spirits a month. Price, Project Manager Bryon DeGraw, and Production Manager Ryan Fish worked to convert their equipment and process to produce thousands of gallons of sanitizer instead.
Price initially teamed with other local businesses Angel Trail Soaps and Wild Rose Soap Company.
“Both of them really helped us with the switch,” said Price. “We’ve worked with both of them in the past, because they use our bourbon and moonshine for their soaps. So, when we jumped into this, they helped us out with a formula for hand sanitizer.”
Price then reached out to fellow businesses with bottling machines. He recruited the companies, already been shut down by the pandemic, to help with sanitizer production.
At first, Black Draft tried to mix and disperse the liquids to the different locations.
“It didn’t work out so well,” he said. “We ended up getting a huge warehouse to consolidate production into one single area.”
The challenges ramped up as their supply of ethanol started running out.
“After about 300 phone calls, we were able to shore up a regular supply of denatured alcohol,” he said. “And then the supply of caps dried up. Only now are those supplies starting to trickle down to smaller businesses like ours.”
Black Draft needed more hands to carry out the work. Price was glad to have the chance to provide temporary employment for locals whose regular jobs were lost in the pandemic.
“For us to go from a part-time four-person business to 25 full-timers was a huge undertaking,” he said.
Volunteers provided additional help to keep the operation running smoothly.
“Our community is definitely tight-knit,” Price said. “We had a ton of people wanting to jump in and help. That was amazing to us. Whether it was for security or to drive trucks, they were just volunteering to be a part of this effort.”
Toast to a healthier future
Price estimated that more than 12,000 gallons of sanitizer have flowed through Black Draft Distillery. The quantity could be 25,000 gallons by year’s end.
For now, Price and his team at Black Draft look forward to the transition back to making whiskey, bourbon and vodka. During the hiatus, he has been dreaming up new products to introduce when the timing is right.
“We want to get out and share our bourbon and vodka with folks again,” he said. “We want to get out with bartenders and restaurants to see how they’re using our spirits. We love seeing people laugh, smile and cheer with a glass of our stuff in their hands.
That’s what we’re excited to start seeing again.”