by Michael Andrei
Published March 31, 2020
A micro-distillery on the Niagara Wine Trail co-owned by a UB staff member and a UB alumnus is helping Western New Yorkers stay healthy by turning spirits into hand sanitizer that is offered free to the surrounding community.
Todd Snyder and Joe Nardecchia, co-owners of Niagara Craft Spirits Distillery and Tasting Room, say they are trying to help meet a critical need brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
“I had been reading — and hearing — story after story about the need for hand sanitizer,” said Snyder, an instructional support specialist in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We all know how quickly bottles of hand sanitizer disappear from store shelves. And how difficult it is to keep it in stock,” he said. “It has become a necessity that all of us are using on a daily basis.”
Local residents began arriving as soon as the distillery opened at noon on Saturday. Among them was Marge Gates, a school bus driver from Lockport.
“Hand sanitizer has become harder and harder to find,” Gates said. “There is nothing around and we didn’t want to go from store to store. I am happy it is available here.”
“We can’t find it anywhere,” added Joanne Casilio, a Youngstown resident who was there with her husband, Art.
“We are very appreciative. It is wonderful of them to offer it here free of charge.”
As the line grew, residents waited patiently, leaving contributions on the tasting room’s pine bar where Kelly Hoak was serving up six-ounce plastic bottles of hand sanitizer.
Kelly Hoak "bartends," while Todd Snyder watches — from a safe distance — along with Newfane resident Karen Dolly.
Snyder said basic hand sanitizer is not a complicated product to make. He and Nardecchia, a 2003 graduate of the School of Management, thought they could produce their own using alcohol distilled at Niagara Craft Distillery. After conducting an online search for a sound formula, Snyder was a bit surprised by what he found out.
“I learned there are almost as many formulas for hand sanitizer as there are different brands,” he said.
“I wanted to produce a powerful product, one that could also be useful in health care for sanitizing certain types of instruments or surfaces.
“We settled on the formula that is certified by the World Health Organization, which is 160 proof. Most hand sanitizers that are sold for day-to-day use are usually in the range of 120 proof,” said Snyder, who received a master’s degree in civil engineering from UB in 1996.
“We are preparing it using our own ethanol, distilled from local Niagara County wine and/or corn, according to the WHO’s published, ethanol-based, hand sanitizer guidance.”
Niagara Craft Spirits Distillery is a New York State Farm Distillery, required by law to use at least 75% New York State agricultural ingredients in their products. Snyder and Nardecchia create their mash, for example, with corn from farms in Niagara County.
“Our corn comes right from the farmers here — our neighbors — delivered to our silo out back,” Nardecchia said. “We use the corn for our whiskey and bourbon. Our spent grain goes to a nearby chicken farm as feed for livestock.”
Snyder and Nardecchia also accept wine from any of the wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail that wasn’t bottled, for one reason or another, which they distill and turn into handcrafted gin. Or, now, ethanol for hand sanitizer.
“It may be wine that didn’t go so well,” Snyder explained. “We distill it down to 80 proof. Then it goes into one of our three 30-gallon polishing stills for more carefully controlled distillation, which can take it up to 190 proof.
“We are fortunate to have received a lot of very strong support for the hand sanitizer project from the local wineries, farms and other neighbors here in Cambria,” Snyder said. “We have 2,000 gallons of donated wine — it’s not good enough for bottling, but it works for hand sanitizer.
“We have wonderful neighbors, in a great community. We are grateful to them for their contributions.”
Snyder and Nardecchia said they are making a commitment to that community. “Niagara Craft Spirits Distillery is focused on producing as little waste as possible. Sustainability — how we operate our business — is very important to us,” Snyder said.
“We love being here and we want our visitors to enjoy their visit and feel comfortable coming back.”
Anyone with an empty hand sanitizer bottle — up to six ounces — that they would like refilled is invited to stop by the distillery during regular business hours for a free refill.
“We’ll top you off with up to six ounces per person per day,” Snyder said. “And we will continue doing this — there’s no shortage of alcohol for this effort. This is not a one-weekend event, so there is no reason to panic or hoard.”
Niagara Craft Spirits Distillery and Tasting Room is located at 4408 Ridge Road, Cambria, within five miles of the seven wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail. Business hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.