The Desrocher family expected to be ready for a spring opening for their Five Rocks Distilling Co. but instead of distilling spirits from the Brainerd microdistillery, they created a product now in huge demand and gave it away.

The Five Rocks label marked bags of hand sanitizer and a table was set up outside the distillery’s door in northeast Brainerd Friday morning, March 27. They gave away sanitizer to people who pulled up in cars and to those out on a brisk morning walk in the chilly air.

“This is a great idea,” said Pat Kaune, a neighborhood resident and one of the walkers. Kaune and a friend passed by the distillery shortly after the table arrived. “I love it. Thank you guys. We will come back.”

Just as the distillery, one of the finalists in the 2017 Destination Downtown Business Contest, was just about ready for opening day, the world changed. The coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and a campaign for social distancing and sheltering in place as a way to prevent the virus from spreading, altered years of preparation.

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For the tight-knit family and friends at the new distilling company, it provided an opportunity to do something for the community and be actively involved in efforts to stop the virus from spreading. The hand sanitizer was created using World Health Organization specifications and as regulations allowed distilleries to expand their efforts from their own products into medical grade to help with a nationwide sanitizer shortage. Five Rocks created the hand sanitizer from the distillation of Minnesota wild rice from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and sugar beets.

Five Rocks owner Lisa Desrocher said they are working with Jack Pine Brewery, which is making a base for the hand sanitizer, and they expect to have another batch available next weekend. Friday’s effort included her daughter Elisabeth Jenkins, son-in-law Brett Jenkins, son Bill Desrocher and friends.

They tried to get small bottles for the hand sanitizer but found the bottles, another item of scarcity, were being directed to full-time hand sanitizer makers. They received a donation of bottles from Lakes Vape and Rec Supply in downtown Brainerd. With a limited supply, they hoped people could put the sanitizer they have in pouches into bottles they may already have as a refill. They donated gallons of the hand sanitizer to the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, hospice and home health — focusing those efforts on people who have a lot of contact with others. Friday, they had about 1,000 pouches to give away.

“Since we couldn’t open we wanted to help in any way we could,” Desrocher said, adding it was nice the regulations were relaxed so they could be helpful.

On April 15, they plan to have their microdistillery products — Cold North Vodka, Lizzy’s Gin and three-year-old bourbon — available curbside.

“We’re ready to start selling,” Desrocher said of the process of going from the startup business goal to a working enterprise. “So it’s been a real labor of love, that’s for sure.”

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Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.