Four years after he graduated from SUNY Cortland, Jason Barrett ’08 founded Black Button Distilling in Rochester, N.Y., producing small-batch spirits like bourbon, rye, vodka and gin.
Now, with the world facing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, he’s turning to a new product: hand sanitizer.
“We are uniquely qualified to safely handle and bottle ethanol-based hand sanitizer and we have an extensive network of contacts to bring bottles, labels, labor and ingredients to bear,” said Barrett, president and master distiller at Black Button Distilling.
The hand sanitizer produced by Black Button will follow FDA guidelines and will be packaged in the company’s standard 750ml bottles previously used for spirits. Barrett is hoping to distribute the hand sanitizer to at-risk communities in the Rochester area, including hospitals, senior citizen centers, fire stations and daycare facilities.
Those in need may contact Black Button Distilling via email.
"We're still trying to work out the kinks," Barrett said on Tuesday, March 24. "We made about 5,000 bottles last week. We're hoping to make 3,500 today, 7,000 tomorrow and 10,000 bottles a day by Friday. For a business that wasn't doing this 10 days ago, this has been a pretty interesting endeavor."
Black Button Distilling made the transition from spirits to hand sanitizer in 48 hours. Barrett guided his fellow employees in learning new guidelines, retooling machines and retraining.
“We are doing this to help our community, to hopefully save lives and to get our employees back to work,” he said. “We want to do our part in these unprecedented times. I couldn’t stand by and watch this pandemic ravage my hometown of Rochester. We will work around the clock to help as many as we can.
"It's been absolutely overwhelming. We've been getting tons of support from hospitals and police departments and county health officials and consumers who are excited with what we're doing and folks that want to help and volunteer. We appreciate what everybody is doing."
A political science major at SUNY Cortland, Barrett first became interested in distilling after he and his college roommates tried to brew their own beer at home.
"It was a paper I wrote for a political science class about prohibition that got me so interested in home brewing, which then led to my interest in making bourbon," he said. "In many ways, you could say that if I hadn't studied political science at SUNY Cortland, I'd probably be doing something different with my life."
Barrett did a four-month internship in Washington, D.C. during his time as a student and after he graduated, he worked for U.S. Rep. John McHugh, R-Watertown before starting Black Button in 2012.
The name of the distillery is a homage to his family’s history of producing buttons for men’s suit coats at Moses B. Shantz Button Co. — later Shantz Associates Inc. — in Rochester.
Black Button Distilling is also providing local customers with bottles and cocktail kits for curbside pickup.