Waterloo (Belgium) (AFP)

From gin to hydroalcoholic gel, there was only one step to take for a small distillery in Waterloo, near Brussels. When the local pharmacists ran out of alcohol for their preparations, this family business did not hesitate.

At this time of year, the aroma of whiskey should escape from Edward Martin's stills. But the manager of the smallest distillery in Belgium has swapped the fermentation of barley for a much more pragmatic and civic occupation in these times of coronavirus. Like other distillers in Europe.

The company now produces 200 liters of pure alcohol at 86 degrees per week, intended for pharmacists. They will serve as a basis for the preparation of hydroalcoholic solutions, the shortage of which has been cruelly felt since the explosion of the epidemic.

"We noticed that there was a lack of hydroalcoholic gel and a lack of alcohol. Concretely I said to myself + But in fact it is my job! +", Exclaims Edward Martin.

Certainly his specialty is gin and whiskey. "But the process is basically the same," says the young man, the son of a pharmacist.

After a few regulatory adaptations overseen by the distillers union and support from the federal government, which has abolished taxes and excise duties, Edward Martin devotes his machines entirely to this new production.

- Citizenship -

"At first, we decided to take our base of whiskey alcohol to sell it to pharmacists. But then (...) we favored a fermentation of 100% sugar and not grains at all", explains- he.

"The goal was clearly to meet the demand of pharmacists, because this sugar distillation we do not know how to do it, we can not make gin, we can not make whiskey," he said.

A little stock of gin remains, and while the whiskey is aging in barrels, three employees, one of whom is part-time, are involved in the production of pure alcohol.

By producing the cheapest alcohol possible, the business is in "slight loss". "But of course we do it voluntarily," says Edward Martin.

"This is proof of good citizenship. I think everyone wants to help, in order to get through this global crisis together, and I think that on our scale, the smallest distillery in Belgium could make a small contribution to edifice ", he rejoices.

Jean-Pierre De Bluts, whose wife owns a pharmacy, came to collect a few cans.

"It is clear that I would never have thought a few weeks ago that I would have to come here to find a supply of alcohol," he admits.

The stocks of hydroalcoholic gel were quickly sold out and the shortage of gel, but also of the ingredients to make it, is felt "since the beginning of the crisis", he recalls.

So it took imagination. "I took a list, tried to see which distilleries were available on the market in the region."

The gel manufactured by pharmacists, initially intended only for nursing staff, will now also be able to be sold to individuals.

© 2020 AFP