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UK’s James B. Beam Institute rallies industry partners to provide vital sanitizer during pandemic


By Aimee Nielson
University of Kentucky

The COVID-19 pandemic has created shortages of vital sanitizer for everyone. The James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky has rallied during the crisis and gathered industry partners to make sure UK HealthCare and the entire UK campus has enough sanitizer to reopen more safely this fall.

“Early on in the pandemic, we made about 300 gallons of sanitizer product, thanks in part to a donation of high-proof ethanol from Beam Suntory,” said Seth DeBolt, director of the Beam Institute. “Our production methods evolved, and we began to seek out ways to greatly increase production in a way that could benefit the entire university.”

Recently, the Beam Institute gathered generous support from industry partners Four Roses Distillery, Buffalo Trace, Alltech and Beam Suntory. Within UK, collaboration among the Colleges of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Pharmacy, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering put the project in motion.

UK’s James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits has gathered industry partners to make sure UK HealthCare and the entire UK campus has enough sanitizer to reopen more safely this fall. (Photo by Pete Comparoni)

“The James B. Beam Institute has worked tirelessly to ensure our community has what it needs to heal, and we are grateful for the remarkable effort of everyone involved,” said UK president Eli Capilouto. “As an industry leader, the institute has united key partners and proven, once again, that we are better when we work together. It is innovative thinkers and collaborators like them who help us uphold our promise to the Commonwealth as the University of, for and with Kentucky.”

Beam Suntory was an early partner in the first wave of sanitizer production and continued generous contributions of denaturing agents, glycerin, bitrex and hydrogen peroxide. The most recent donations will allow the institute to produce 20,000 gallons of sanitizer through spring 2021.

“Beam Suntory has been committed to Kentucky for the past 225 years and helping the Beam Institute produce hand sanitizer was just one way we could help ensure our community and our essential workers stayed protected during this time,” said Kevin Smith, vice president of Kentucky Beam Bourbon Affairs. “It’s been very inspiring to see our industry coming together, setting aside competitive differences, and working with the Beam Institute in finding ways that we can support each other to meet this urgent need.”

New partner Four Roses Distillery has been working on their own response to the pandemic sanitizer needs and joined the Beam Institute’s efforts by donating 2,000 gallons of distillate, with plans to donate more this fall. Chief operating officer and director of distillery operations Ryan Ashley said many Four Roses Distillery employees are UK alumni, and it just makes sense to support the Beam Institute.

“The bourbon industry is a signature industry in Kentucky with very collaborative partners,” he said. “This is an incredible effort to put vital sanitizer into the hands of the people who are working so hard to fight this pandemic. It was an easy decision for us to join this project. We hope to collaborate more with the institute in the future.”

Buffalo Trace Distillery recognized the critical need and donated 52 cases of finished hand sanitizer that can be bottled and put right into the hands of those who need it most.

“Buffalo Trace Distillery was happy to partner with the University of Kentucky to donate hand sanitizer for its health care workers, first responders and campus community,” said Matt Maimone, chief operating officer for Buffalo Trace Distillery. “We realize hand sanitizer is critical in the fight against COVID-19 and commend UK for its work in distributing it to these members of our community.”

Alltech also recently joined with the Beam Institute’s efforts by donating more than 1,300 gallons of finished sanitizer.

“This collaborative effort reflects our long-standing relationship with the University of Kentucky and a shared commitment to our neighbors,” said Dan Haney, vice president of operations at Alltech. “We were eager to support UK HealthCare, UK staff and the community that Alltech has called home for more than 40 years.”

Alex Nilges works with UK College of Pharmacy faculty and other students to bottle some of the 250 gallons of sanitizer produced by the Jim Beam distillery and donated to UK for health care workers and first responders. (Photo by Mark Cornelison)

Many departments and people across the UK community are working tirelessly to produce and bottle sanitizer. The College of Pharmacy has taken the lead in getting the product bottled with the help of faculty and student pharmacists.

“I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to be part of this campus-wide collaboration. Public health emergencies require all of us to respond, and it has been fantastic to meet and work with many colleagues across the university who are passionate about helping others,” said Clark Kebodeaux, clinical associate professor. “Our student pharmacists, trained in sterile and non-sterile compounding technique, have graciously volunteered their time to contribute to Kentucky’s ability to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Alex Nilges is a fourth-year student pharmacist who has been involved in the project.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to band together with other members from our campus community in the fight against COVID-19,” she said. “I have been grateful for the opportunity to work on a new interprofessional team serving Kentucky and getting necessary supplies to our fellow frontline providers.”

The Beam Institute aims to produce 10,000 gallons of finished product over the next year. The finished product will help health care workers continue their vital work and allow faculty, students and staff a safer return to campus.

“We are very grateful that all of these partners saw the need for this valuable product and decided to join with us to continue this fight against COVID-19, and this collective of generous gifts represents phase I as we continue to welcome support from all our partners in the bourbon industry” DeBolt said. “The bourbon industry is really coming together to help Kentucky when we need it the most.”

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