Biz Buzz: Local distillery uses spuds to combat COVID-19
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Do you want to know what’s happening in the eastern Idaho business scene? We’ve got you covered. Here is a rundown of this week’s business news across the valley.
Local distillery that makes alcohol from Idaho spuds will be making hand sanitizer this week
RIGBY – On the outskirts of Jefferson County between Idaho Falls and Rigby sits a 22-acre piece of property occupied by Distilled Resources Inc. (DRINC), and it’s using Idaho’s No. 1 agricultural export to combat COVID-19.
‘Doing our part with COVID-19’
Anyone who has tried to purchase hand sanitizer recently knows it is in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic. DRINC is working with local hospitals to make it for first responders, hospital staff and other clinics.
“We understand making alcohol for hand sanitizer is not part of the business plan for most distilleries,” Whitney Cooley, director of pharmacy for Mountain View Hospital and Idaho Falls Community Hospital, says in a news release. “We are so grateful Distilled Resources Inc. and Grand Teton Distillery were willing to partner with us, so we can make sure local healthcare workers, including those working at hospitals, doctors’ offices, fire stations, skilled nursing facilities and clinics, can continue to have a steady supply of hand sanitizer amid this pandemic.”
Distilled Resources is not currently making hand sanitizer for private individuals, but Mountain View Hospital and Idaho Falls Community Hospital are trying to find small bottles so they can distribute it to people in the community.
About DRINC’s operation
Since 1988, the company has been a major manufacturer of pure-grade alcohol using potato products.
“We use potato flakes that we get from local producers to make alcohol,” Justin Chipp, the company’s executive vice president tells EastIdahoNews.com.
All the alcohol produced is used primarily in vodka. The company partners with many different brands to supply alcohol for consumption across the U.S. One of the most popular is Blue Ice.
DRINC also works with several brands that produce ready-to-drink beverages in a can that are flavored and have a lower alcoholic content. Many of the brands are sold in other states, but one of the brands sold locally is Boozie.
The entire alcohol production process takes about six days to complete. The potatoes are first cooked and fermented.
“Ninety percent of what comes out of a fermenter is sold as cattle feed and the other 10 percent is the alcohol we want,” Company President Gray Ottley says.
From there, the alcohol goes through a distiller and is separated from the waste and blended before it’s put into bottles. Alcohol being used in canned beverages is carbonated before it’s canned. See how it works in the video player above.
Ottley says it takes 100 pounds of whole potatoes to make one 97 percent pure alcohol gallon. DRINC uses 85,000 pounds of potatoes to make 850 gallons of alcohol daily. To put that in perspective, that’s enough to fill 10,320 750ml bottles per day.
There is not a chemical difference between potato-based alcohol versus alcohol made from barley or corn, Chipp says, but there is a difference in taste.
“Taste connoisseurs can tell the difference between alcohol made out of rye or wheat, corn or potato just by the mouthfeel and slight flavor variations,” says Chipp.
Distilled Resources has taste testers that try out the product before it’s shipped out and sold in restaurants, bars and grocery stores.
‘More of a shift than a slowdown’
Since the spread of COVID-19, Chipp says they’ve seen a slight decrease in restaurant and bar sales, but the grocery product has not changed.
“Nationwide, I think it’s more of a shift than a slowdown. With restaurants and bars closing, the alcohol that’s being sold for on-premise bar use — that may be slowing down, but it’s just more focused towards the grocer, retail and liquor store chains,” COO Sang Luu says.
Chipp says they’ll continue to provide hand sanitizer for hospitals as needed for as long as the pandemic continues.
Meanwhile, the company is looking forward to future growth as it prepares to do business with a dozen new brands in the next several months.
“Overall, we’re growing. We’re trying to hit a different phase so that we should be able to employ more people in a relatively short period of time,” Luu says. “A lot of people associate us with those beverage alcohols, but we’re definitely moving towards other areas as well and trying to do our part with the COVID-19 issue.”
Pocatello Parks and Rec. Dept. to close playgrounds, CRC closure extended
POCATELLO – In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the City of Pocatello Parks and Recreation Department will be closing playgrounds in the city’s park system. Starting Wednesday, Parks and Recreation Department crews will begin fencing off playgrounds around Pocatello. Employees will be closing the playgrounds as they are able to purchase materials from vendors. Staff will also be posting signs on park pavilions asking park-goers not to use these facilities. City parks and trails are still available for use by residents. Officials continue to recommend citizens maintain appropriate social distancing of 6 feet or more. If you have questions or concerns, call Community Recreation Center staff at (208) 232-3901 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Local grocery store taking precautions during COVID-19 to ensure employees and customers are safe
IDAHO FALLS – Smith’s Food & Drug Store associates are on the frontlines, ensuring everyone has access to the food, services and products they need during this unprecedented pandemic. We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our associates. Store associates are permitted to wear protective masks and gloves.
We continue to enhance daily sanitation practices, including cleaning commonly used areas, including cashier stations, self-checkouts, credit card terminals, food service counters, and shelves. Smith’s will be installing plexiglass partitions at many cash registers, to further promote physical distancing. Many stores are beginning the installation process this week, and we anticipate every check lane having a partition, including pharmacy counters and Starbucks registers by the end of next week.
In addition, we are installing educational floor decals to promote physical distancing at check lanes and other counters. Smith’s has adjusted store operating hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to allow more time for our associates to rest, clean and replenish inventory.
Power company alters operations amid COVID-19 spread
REXBURG – As of Monday, March 23, Fall River Electric Cooperative has restricted access by the public to each of the cooperative’s three front offices located in Ashton, Driggs and West Yellowstone. This action is following recommendations from the CDC as well as local and state agencies and is in response to the COVID-19 virus. This step will have absolutely no impact on the power supplied to our members but will ensure critical business operations continue without interruption. To help during this pandemic, Fall River Electric will not disconnect electrical service to any member. Members should not be alarmed by this slight change in operations and can be assured that because of the exceptional financial and operational condition of the Co-op, Fall River Electric is positioned to continue to provide reliable power.
During this time, we caution members, and the general public, to be on the lookout for suspicious emails and phone calls by persons impersonating Fall River employees or coronavirus focused charitable organizations. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of opportunities like this virus to attempt to defraud households and businesses when we are otherwise preoccupied. Fall River Electric will never make threats or demand immediate payment to avoid disconnection. If you receive any call of this nature, hang up and call Fall River Electric at (800) 632-5726.