A new philosophy for hand sanitizers

When demand for hand sanitizers surged in the spring of 2020, distilleries across the country stepped up.

It made sense. Distilleries have access both to the equipment and ingredients required to manufacture hand sanitizer, and it’s a simple shift to meet the regulatory requirements—something that would take years for companies starting from scratch.

Last Straw was one of the first distilleries in the country to get Health Canada approval to begin manufacturing. “We were actually the second, and we were only second by minutes,” said Fred Carroll, the general manager at Last Straw Labs, Ethisan’s parent company.

Carroll’s father founded Last Straw Distillery. When they began making sanitizer in April 2020, they quickly realized that many of the same qualities that distinguished their spirits could also distinguish their newest product. “What we know from spirits is that wheat-based alcohols are soft on the nose and palate. So we asked, ‘why wouldn’t that translate to sanitizers?’ It needs to feel good and smell good.”

They began experimenting with different recipes and quickly learned that making an exceptional sanitizer wasn’t so different than making an exceptional spirit: you need high quality ingredients, and you can’t cover them up.

Ethisan’s liquid sanitizer is made from just four ingredients, one of which is water. The active ingredient, distilled ethanol, is sourced directly from the Canadian prairies. In fact, Carroll said Last Straw is now one of the largest buyers of ethanol in the the country.

“It’s the highest quality ethanol you can get,” Carroll said. “There’s no possible way we could spend more on base ingredients. It’s night and day when you compare it to other sanitizers on the market.”

During the height of COVID’s first wave, Carroll and his father were providing the sanitizer free of charge to first responders and essential businesses. “But we realized we were going to go broke if we kept doing that,” Carroll joked. Sensitive to the perceptions of price gouging, they surveyed other companies and set their prices slightly below other common sanitizers.

“It’s funny,” Carroll said, “we use the most expensive base ingredients and also have one of the least expensive products on the market.”