THEY are among our biggest producers, our greatest exporters and at the heart of the Scottish hospitality, food and tourism sectors.

When Scotland and its Scotch industry came under threat, distilleries responded swiftly to the crisis and managed to turn production from drinks to hand sanitiser for the fight against coronavirus.

Only now is the scale of the operation coming into focus, with the Scottish whisky industry expected to help supply nurses and doctors on the NHS frontline in the UK with 50 million litres of hand sanitiser over the next eight weeks, and this is outwith care homes also being supplied.

In our new series we highlight the resilient response of Scottish businesses to the devastating impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in the face of the threat of permanent closures and widespread job losses despite government support packages put forward so far.

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Today, the spotlight is on how distilleries and breweries turned around production in a mobilisation reminiscent of a wartime effort, with many of the 10,000 people directly employed in making Scotch whisky in Scotland taking part.

The Scotch Whisky Association moved to set up a dedicated hand sanitiser portal which has 19 producers listed, including Orkney Distilling and Pernod Ricard, which produces The Glenlivet, with more than 30 organisations also linked including Glasgow City Council and Edinburgh City Council for supply.

The portal is serving as a conduit between Scotch whisky distillers, suppliers and distributors and the organisations seeking hand sanitiser.

It is providing a critical link between distillers wanting to make hand sanitiser with those who can provide key ingredients, supplies such as bottles, pump-action closures and labels, and companies that can help distribute sanitiser to organisations in need.

A spokesman for the SWA outlined the size of the operation, saying: “A fortnight ago the SWA launched an online portal to help with the supply of hand sanitiser to health and social services, emergency services, local communities and other industries in need of it across the UK. In doing so, our industry is keen to play its full role in fighting the coronavirus.”

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The SWA said: “Over the next two months the industry is providing over 12 million litres of ethanol for the production of more than 50 million bottles of hand sanitiser for use by frontline health services in the UK.

“This is in addition to the hand sanitiser that many distilleries are producing to support local communities, local care homes, councils and key services. Demand is very high at many levels, and distillers are responding accordingly.”

The army of workers has been redeployed to the coronavirus effort in places such as the Glasgow Distillery Company, William Grant & Sons, and Ellon-based BrewDog, who are among a division of companies helping the country forge forward against the pandemic by switching production from drinks to cleanser.

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Brewgooder, the social enterprise and beer brand based in Edinburgh, is backing the NHS with its scheme allowing people to donate a drink to staff, while Glasgow restaurateur Alan Tomkins, whose portfolio includes Urban Bar & Brasserie, Vroni’s Wine Bar and Blue Dog, has set up a wine delivery service.

Distillers have been able to turn to making hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol. 

The Glasgow Distillery Company moved to add hand sanitiser to its production schedule following appeals from the British Red Cross - who have now picked up their first consignment - and other workers including in the NHS, local care homes, homeless charities and surgeries.

Liam Hughes, chief executive and co-founder of the Glasgow Distillery, said that “in one day alone, over 20 care homes across Glasgow and the west of Scotland got in touch with me to ask if we were going to be producing hand sanitiser, showing just how serious this problem has become”.

It is only charging what it costs to produce “to those who can afford it and donating to those charities and organisations which cannot”.

“Like many of our distilling companions across Scotland and beyond, we are looking to support our local communities in any way we can at the moment.”

In part two tomorrow, we report how some manuacturers have responded to the coronavirus crisis. 

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