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Dry Fly distillery, which made sanitizer, was nearly fined $14,000 by the FDA until another agency stepped in

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

Don Poffenroth, founder and president of Dry Fly Distilling, fills donated bottles with hand sanitizer he calls Spokanitizer on March 19 in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE)
Don Poffenroth, founder and president of Dry Fly Distilling, fills donated bottles with hand sanitizer he calls Spokanitizer on March 19 in Spokane. (DAN PELLE)

Starting in March, when toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizer were in short supply, Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane started making thousands of gallons of sanitizer.

The company sold 25,000 gallons at a lower price to Spokane County to help with opening schools, said Terry Nichols, one of the distillery’s owners.

They also gave away about 7,000 gallons, he said. One weekend, they gave a bottle to each car that came to the distillery. Roughly 3,000 cars showed up.

So when, three days before the new year, the Food and Drug Administration announced they’d be fining distilleries that switched over to hand sanitizer production more than $14,000, it felt like “a little bit of a gut punch,” Nichols said.

After public outcry, Health and Human Services directed the FDA “to cease enforcement of these arbitrary, surprise user fees,” according to a New Year’s Eve tweet from HHS Public Affairs.

“We’re glad the FDA backed down, but it would not have changed what we did in the moment at all,” Nichols said.

“If we’d known there was going to be a fee, it wouldn’t have changed our approach. It was about helping the community.”

Nichols said for smaller distilleries, who rely more on in-house sales, the fine could have been “a game changer.”

“Just the principle of the matter – to say three days before the end of the year, ‘Remember that good deed you did for your community? Now we’re going to make you pay a $14,000 licensing fee to do that,’ ” Nichols said. “It felt like it was wrong on a moral level.”

For Dry Fly Distilling, community support has been great. They shifted production to sanitizer for about nine weeks starting in March, Nichols said, and the community supported the move.

Nichols said he had around 5,000 emails from businesses and institutions wanting to buy sanitizer made at the distillery.

That meant seven-day work weeks for Nichols, but it also meant good business.

In total, the distiller made about 32,000 gallons of sanitizer during the pandemic, Nichols said.

“We don’t regret it,” Nichols said. “Spokane is our home, right?”

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