Mike Harrison did not waste any time pivotting his business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president of New Ontario Brewing Company, which moved into the old Honda dealership building earlier this summer, knew they could make a difference when he realized how tough it was to find hand sanitizer back in late March.
"I went to the store to buy hand sanitizer and I couldn't, my wife went to the store to buy hand sanitizer and couldn't," recalls Harrison.
"So my partner and I had a discussion and we felt we could do this here."
See related: Cheers to New Ontario Brewing Company
That's when Harrison decided to transform the brewery into a licensed distillery which is now able to make as much as 2500 litres a day of hand sanitizer.
On Monday morning, the province rewarded Harrison's innovation with a grant of $294,000 from the Ontario Together Fund to invest in the retooling and new purchases of production equipment to help in the fight against COVID-19.
The announcement was made by Vic Fedeli, Nipissing MPP and the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade.
"Our fight against COVID-19 continues and we applaud local businesses like New Ontario Brewing that have stepped up with solutions to help at a critical time," said Minister Fedeli.
"The reopening of our economy would not be possible without the collective efforts of everyone in every corner of this province. Together, we will ensure the province has the Ontario-made solutions to respond to needs now and in the future as the province reopens and recovers."
With Ontario's support, New Ontario Brewing will continue to modify its facilities and install specialized equipment for ethanol production to respond to needs driven by COVID-19.
"It was a bit of a bold undertaking because we have made alcohol for years and this was taking a more refined product, a higher proof product and turning into something our economy and our hospitals and everything really needed," said Harrison.
New Ontario Brewery plans on producing more than 100,000 litres of hand sanitizer, helping to supply area hospitals, pharmacies, and grocers. As well, sanitizer was donated to senior care facilities and first responders.
Harrison says the new project has been a rewarding experience.
"Our passion is making beer but making sure our community is safe, making sure that we get the product out to market and to make sure everyone has access especially medical facilities and stuff like that is very important to us," said Harrison.
Harrison says he will continue to make hand sanitizer for as long as he needs to but he admits once things settle down he is optimistic he can use the new distillery to make other versions of higher percentage alcohol hopefully in the very near future.
"Hopefully, with the still here, we can have a higher percentage of alcohol out of here in the near future.