Social distancing guidelines haven’t slowed American’s need for social lubricant. In the last week of March, with two-thirds of the country’s residents confined to their homes, alcohol sales jumped 55 percent. But it wouldn’t necessarily have taken a degree in economics to forecast such a spike; considering the economic devastation, stress, anxiety, boredom, and the fact that the hashtag #pandemicdreams is trending, it’s no wonder that heavy boozin’ would be part of the new-normal. 

Local spirit maker, Manifest Distilling, however, had its sights set on other forecasts–namely the demand for hand sanitizer. Knowing a there was a shortage afoot, Manifest adapted its production, and began cranking out batches of hand sanitizer. In late March, they delivered the first 2,000 bottles to frontline health care workers. 

Special delivery of a special concoction–hand sanitizer. || Image courtesy of Manifest Distilling.

As advocates for the development of Jax’s Urban Core, Manifest planted its flag in downtown Jax in 2016. Though the economic shutdown may throw a temporary wrench in the spokes of the wheels of progress, if the core’s current crop of pioneers are all as adaptable as Manifest, the area’s likely to continue its upward trajectory. 

We caught up with head distiller and CEO, David Cohen, and asked about the audible he recently called on Manifest’s production focus and his go-to quarantine cocktail. 

How are you doing out there? Your production facilities are still in operation, right? Everyone staying safe and healthy? 

We’re here! We are still operating both our production facility and tasting room, albeit things have been tailored slightly. We are running a tight essential crew, which is composed of all our full time people to try and minimize “crossing circles.” So far, everyone has managed to stay safe. 

Manifest was one of the first businesses locally to adapt its operations in response to this pandemic. Can you talk about the decision to start producing hand sanitizer and why that was important for you all?  

We were hesitant at first since it wasn’t clear whether the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and TTB [The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] were going to allow distilleries to produce sanitizer. That week where it was being reviewed gave us time to walk through the logistics of shifting over our production to be able to safely and effectively produce sanitizer. So once it became legal, it was a no-brainer. As a Jax native who employs quite a few Jax-native and Jax-proud people, it wasn’t even a question of whether or not we make the switch. Our city is immensely important to us, so to be able to step up and provide in a time of need almost feels like a civic duty. 

“Our city is immensely important to us,” says CEO and head distiller David Cohen, “so to be able to step up and provide in a time of need almost feels like a civic duty. || Photo: Cole LoCurto

Any idea how helpful the production of hand sanitizer has been? Is there a lot of demand for what you’re making? 

Honestly, I thought this would be over by now. I was pretty convinced supply chains would catch up and the large manufacturers would have permeated the market. We committed to making it as long as it was needed, and we still get calls daily. Our supply chain is a moving target as well, so that means we are constantly adapting to the materials we can get so we can continue to provide to the public. To date, we’ve produced close to 2,000 gallons of sanitizer ranging from 2-oz. to 1-gallon packages. 

And alcohol sales are up. Are you still making spirits? Have you seen an increase in demand for them? 

I think retail alcohol sales have skyrocketed, but the on-premise (bars and restaurants) are obviously in terrible shape. Overall, we have lost volume, which was to be expected. We are still producing spirits that will need aging because those are forecasted for a 2-5 year maturity window. We have seen solid local support with our curbside pickup, but I think that once bars and restaurants can re-open, it will be very important to go support them as well as all local craft producers. 

A sign of the times: Manifest’s product line now includes hand sanitizer. || Image courtesy of Manifest Distilling

It seems like there was a lot of momentum behind Downtown Jax-based businesses and development in the area. Is there anything that makes you optimistic that this crisis won’t stunt the positive growth that the city seemed destined for?  

I’m hopeful they won’t be affected. It would be short-sighted to claim that they absolutely won’t, because we don’t know how long this will last. However, it seems like the country is trending towards recovery. This may have set back that momentum a few months, but I feel good about the fact that it will carry on. 

Can you recommend a go-to quarantine cocktail? 

Keep it simple. The fewer ingredients the better. My go to is either a Negroni; equal parts Manifest Gin, Campari (or other bitter aperitif), Sweet Vermouth. Or The Tuxedo, which is a style of Gin Martini; two parts Manifest Gin, one part Fino Sherry with a few dashes of orange bitters. Drink up! 

This interview originally appeared in Void Magazine’s May 2020 issue, The Check In. 

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