El Segundo distillery R6 pivots to hand sanitizer production to help first responders and slow the spread of COVID-19

By Phoenix Tso

Craft bourbon distillery R6 has entered the hand sanitizer business to help get this new liquid gold to the medical workers who need it

If this were any other day, the copper stills at R6 Distillery would be entirely devoted to making vodka, bourbon and single-malt whiskey in the Smoky Hollow neighborhood of El Segundo. But in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, R6 is also distilling ethanol to make hand sanitizer for hospital workers and first responders.

“It’s a very interesting — and weird — turn of events,” said Rob Rubens, the distillery’s founder and owner. “It was also somewhat natural too, because, as a business we produced ethanol for consumption.”

Since ethanol is also the main ingredient in hand sanitizer, R6 Distillery is well positioned to produce that as well. There is more need than ever for hand sanitizer as more Angelenos fall ill from COVID-19. Retail stores are seeing unprecedented shortages, which is bad news for health care workers, policemen and firefighters who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, and are especially vulnerable to being infected.

Distilleries from North Carolina to Oregon have started making hand sanitizer to make up for the shortage while locally Venice lifestyle boutique Late Sunday Afternoon has started a one-for-one mask program, donating one mask to a health care worker for every mask sold. (See our cover story to learn more.)

A few weeks ago, Rubens saw a social media post from a fellow distillery about their own pivot to producing hand sanitizer.

“Immediately, we were like, ‘Yeah, we need to do this too,’” he said.

The distillery started producing small bottles of hand sanitizer to give out to customers. Since then, Rubens and his team have been inundated with calls and emails asking for donations. Rubens is in talks to make donations to local police stations, fire departments and hospitals.

So far, the distillery pays completely out of pocket to produce hand sanitizer — at 80% ethanol — and is asking for donations so that it can scale up its hand sanitizer production. This has been challenging to do, as food and beverage businesses have been ordered to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19. R6 Distillery continues to offer curbside pickup for customers buying their spirits and delivery to certain Westside and South Bay neighborhoods, but even that is not enough to cover costs.

As a result, Rubens set up a GoFundMe page to crowdsource donations for their hand sanitizer operation. The distillery has raised a little more than $3,000 out of a $20,000 goal to cover the costs of producing large batches of hand sanitizer. With these donations, R6 Distillery can scale up their production to 650 gallons for the next batch of sanitizer, and then eventually to two or three times that size.

Donations will also enable the distillery to give out the hand sanitizer to medical workers and first responders free of charge.

“Any bit helps that people are able or willing to donate,” Rubens said. “Even if it is $5 or $10.”

Visit tinyurl.com/R6distillery to make a donation to R6’s GoFundMe or visit R6distillery.com to learn more. Email specialevents@r6distillery.com to place a delivery order.