Alum Stops Distilling Spirits to Produce Hand Sanitizer

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Philanthropy, making a difference, and connecting with others — it was all a part of Chris Larry 86’s fraternity experience at Phi Kappa Sigma. Now, Chris is still making a difference while giving friends and neighbors a place to socialize (when we’re not all hunkered down at home due to COVID-19, of course) thanks to his partnership at Three Crosses Distilling Company. 

While the Three Crosses Distilling Company, located in Powhatan County, Virginia, is relatively new, Chris’s interest in adult-beverage-related entrepreneurial ventures is not. “When we were in college, some of my fraternity Brothers (Todd Sesler and Scott Williams) and I talked about opening a craft brewery and, at that time, craft breweries were not on the market at all,” he says. “We’d gotten to the point where we were getting ready to open up a craft brewery in Erie, Pennsylvania. We ultimately decided not to do it and I always regretted that, now seeing the advent of the craft brewery business and the market share it has.” 

When a similar opportunity came up to partner with some family friends in opening Three Crosses Distilling Company, Chris jumped at the chance. He and his wife Melissa (who was a PSU little sister at TKE and a CHI-O) covered the engineering, design, marketing and accounting side of the business, while John and Michelle Davenport (the primary owners) focused on the actual distilling and running of the business. 

“We opened the distillery as a social enterprise,” Chris explains. “The distillery, if no one is familiar with where it is, is in the County of Powhatan…Powhatan is the second most-famous place for moonshine production and our distillery is the first “legal moonshine” that’s been produced in the county…The facility was originally a feed store. The community would go to this feed store and buy grains, stuff like that, but they would hang out there. It’s where everyone in the county went to get their news. Now, we’ve converted it into a distillery and people still come and socialize and meet their neighbors. The feed and seed sign sits above the bar for nostalgia.” 

Since opening in 2018, Three Crosses Distilling Company has always had a philanthropic focus. A portion of the revenue from bottle sales goes to local causes, supporting veterans, animal adoption, battered women and first responders among other causes. However, with the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent supply shortages, Chris and the team at Three Crosses Distilling found a new way to step in and fill a community need. 

“With the closures of businesses, the state said that beer and wine was a necessity, but spirits were not, so they had us close our distillery, so we basically had all this equipment and resources. What could we do with it? People started asking us about hand sanitizer,” says Chris. "We changed the production to hand sanitizer. At first, we were serving first responders. The people on the front lines needed it…As long as they had some place to keep it, we would just give it to them. It was a donation…” 

“Then, we started getting hospitals that were saying they needed hand sanitizer…so now we have a contract to provide hand sanitizer to a couple hospital groups.” 

How exactly does a distillery make hand sanitizer? According to Chris, during the distilling process, the first vapors to boil off the mash create a more volatile alcohol product that can’t be used and must be removed. This product, called the “heads” or “foreshots” is already often used by distillers to sanitize their own equipment, so it’s a fairly easy process to convert it over to hand sanitizer. 

So far, Chris says, the distillery has produced hundreds of gallons of the hand sanitizer. 

For Chris and his wife, this effort is just a larger part of a lifestyle they’ve embraced since college. “I think fraternities in general, and sororities, their real goal — it’s a social organization, but there is the side behind it to help community and do good things. It’s definitely something we’ve always done…We all need to step up and go beyond the situation that’s confronted us. We all need to step up and be leaders.” 

Brothers who want to assist in the effort and support Three Crosses Distilling Company through a donation of materials or funds to help with the production of hand sanitizer can visit the Three Crosses Distilling website, threecrossesdistilling.com.