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Riggleman and Other Virginia Distillers Pivot to Hand Sanitizer

A row of small bottles of hand sanitizers
Silverback Distillery’s hand sanitizer is made from Hooch Mama, their rye whiskey distillate. (Photo: Silverback Distillery)

Editor’s Note: After publication of this story, some readers pointed out visual similarities between the imagery on Silverback’s sanitizer bottles and a long history of racist tropes and pictures conflating Black people with primates. We reached out to Silverback Distillery for comment:

“Silverback Distillery is named after the Silverback gorilla and its brand is based on gorillas and apes,”  Lauren Weller, General Manager Silverback Distillery, wrote in a statement. “The design on the hand sanitizer bottle is a gorilla wearing a bowtie. To suggest that this isn't just a gorilla in a bowtie is beyond the pale, particularly when our community needs help.” 

Distillers across Virginia are responding to COVID-19 by ramping up production of free hand sanitizer.

That includes Silverback Distillery in Afton, which is co-owned by Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.).

Riggleman says his wife and business partner, Christine, came up with the idea after she saw shortages in stores and needed some on hand for their pregnant daughters.

“My wife simply put out this Facebook post saying we had free hand sanitizer, and we had this amazing reception for it,” he said.

The distillery has since pivoted all of its whiskey-making equipment toward producing hand sanitizer made from Hooch Mama, the company’s rye whiskey distillate. Local medics, emergency and civil agencies all put in requests for the product, according to Riggleman.

Silverback is receiving so many phone calls that Christine Riggleman uploaded a Facebook video on Tuesday urging people to visit their website instead.

“We really need to direct our efforts into putting every minute we can into producing this,” she said. “But our phones are ringing off the hook with demand.”

The distillery is accepting requests for “communities in need” on its website, which says batches will be for sale for the general public “in the coming weeks.”

In the Richmond area, both Reservoir and Three Crosses distilleries are offering sanitizer as well as their usual products.

Reservoir is offering up to 10oz of its sanitizer free per family to members of the public who bring their own bottles to their distillery located at 1800 Summit Avenue. Donations to the HOLLI FUND to support local food service workers are encouraged, according to Reservoir spokeswoman Leslie Griles.

The distillery is ramping up production to meet demand from government agencies, hospital systems and localities, Griles said, adding that their usual bottled products are also for sale.

“Local distilleries, wineries, breweries and restaurants all appreciate the support more than ever,” she said in an email.

Three Crosses Distillery in Powhatan is offering 4oz of its sanitizer for $4 to members of the public, and free for medics and first responders.

Like the other companies, Three Crosses closed their tasting rooms but continue to sell bottles of their whiskeys, rums, moonshines and vodkas onsite.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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