The fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the UK has been ongoing in earnest since the big UK lockdown began on Tuesday March 24th 2020. Even before that, panic buying of items such as toilet rolls and cleansing products had begun to clear our supermarket shelves as villagers became aware of the approaching pandemic.
All this happened just as Ruddington couple Cheryl Stretton and Rory Thorpe were preparing to launch their brand new gin distillery – an idea they’d been experimenting with at home since last year. “We both like Gin and are were really interested in how it was made and the different flavours that were hitting the market” explains Cheryl. “We went on a ‘Gin Experience’ and loved it so much that we wanted to make our own. We are also bee keepers and have a hive in our garden so one of the flavours we are hoping to do in the future is ‘honey’. In our kitchen we have a little still that we have been experimenting using lots of different botanicals – making many different flavours.”
The duo decided to turn their hobby into a business called ‘Ruddy Fine Distillery’: “We did lots of research spoke with people who had done what we were thinking of doing, and a company was recommended to us that help people like us set up from start to finish and support us every step of the way” says Cheryl. “The set-up is expensive, and the property needed to be right, so it took us about a year to find the property whilst sourcing a company who would provide us with the copper still”.
However, the arrival of the Coronavirus delayed their gin making plans: “We heard on the grapevine that a gin company up north was thinking about using their distillery to produce hand sanitiser, so we searched the internet and found the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended formula. We sourced the ingredients we needed and spoke with our network of people and the master distiller to ensure this was possible. It was – so we set about making it as soon as we could!”
Businesses need a licence to buy the correct alcohol to produce the hand sanitiser. For the first batch of ‘Ruddy Fine Hand Rub’ Cheryl and Rory had to use vodka as the alcohol instead! “We didn’t have our HMRC license to buy the NGA so we had to distil the vodka to bring the level of alcohol up to 82% and then add the glycerol and hydrogen peroxide after distillation. We then had to leave it in quarantine for 72 hrs and then we bottled it” says Cheryl. “Not everyone can get a licence as there are certain criteria you need to fulfil. Because we were a new distillery we were still waiting for our licence when lockdown started but, after lots of chasing, we are now in receipt of this all important licence.”
To be effective in ‘killing’ the COVID-19 virus, the WHO recommends a formulation for the final product as Ethanol (alcohol) 80%, Glycerol 1.45% and Hydrogen Peroxide 0.125% – something Ruddy Fine Distillery has managed to achieve. However, Cheryl admits that any thoughts of making money out of their new venture are on hold for now: “We wanted to help the vulnerable in our area as there was such a shortage of hand sanitiser. We want people to be protected as much as possible against this deadly disease and do what we can to help. We are donating the first two hundred 50ml bottles and the rest will be sold as non profit – so just covering the material costs, not our time/electricity, etc.”
The biggest issue for the couple at the moment is the actual plastic bottles in which to put the hand sanitiser. The stock is very low and the cost is very high – at £1 each just for the 50ml bottles. The other issue is that their company is still having to pay the duty on the alcohol – even though the end product is not for drinking. After giving away the first 200, just to break even they’re going to have to charge £3.75 per 50ml bottle for the rest.
However, thanks to an eco-friendly Ruddington business, they’ve found a way to bring down the price a little using recycling: “We’re supplying it to The Bottle Top in a vat so you can go and refill your own hand sanitiser bottles – as they do with their liquid soap.”
Meantime, ‘Ruddy Fine Hand Rub’ is one of the products included in a special Ruddington Village Traders’ VE Day Hamper (above) – available in three different sizes – via the Ruddington Village Market ‘Online Marketplace’ run by Ruddington Village Centre Partnership >>HERE<<.
The couple are not yet certain how long it will be before they swap over from producing hand rub to gin, as they originally intended: “As long as the need is there for hand sanitiser we will keep producing it” promises Cheryl, but jokes: “We hear there is also a need for gin, too!”