​Locally Made Hand Sanitizer at Branchwater Distillery

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

Until 2016, Sheila Kelley had no idea that she had moonshine in her blood. She’d never heard her dad talk about his parents’ connection to distilling, and truthfully, she doesn’t much care for the stuff.

It wasn’t until her son, Bud Kelley, decided he wanted to open a distillery of his own that her dad shared the story.

“My dad was talking to Bud one day, and he said, ‘You know your great-grandparents were bootleggers, right?’ I had no idea, but back in the day, even more prohibition, his parents were bootleggers. They had children to feed, and they were poor, so they supplemented their income by making and selling moonshine,” Kelley said “The recipe we use at Branchwater is the very same recipe they used more than 100 years ago.”

Branchwater Distillery, located at 115 2nd Avenue NW in Winchester, is a local moonshine still owned and operated by Sheila, her son Bud and the Kelley family. When the outbreak of COVID-19 first began and news spread that non-essential businesses would be closing in the state of Tennessee, the Kelleys worried their business wouldn’t be able to survive through an undetermined period of closure.

But when they noticed all the empty shelves where bottles of hand sanitizer once sat at grocery stores and pharmacies, an idea came to mind. They had already been using their moonshine to disinfect the bar at Branchwater. Why not make it into hand sanitizer too?

After contacting the Food & Drug Administration and confirming that their moonshine was strong enough to meet health and safety regulations, the Kelleys began making the sanitizer — and soon, they were selling out as quickly as they could make it.

“The moonshine comes out of the still at 160 or 170 proof, and to be legal according to federal government guidelines, the alcohol has to be 140 proof. We take the moonshine and add aloe vera to it so it is not drying on your hands,” she said. “But you can use it on everything. We’ve always used it at the distillery to disinfect door handles and in our bar area. We would just use straight moonshine to clean up because we know it’s going to kill the germs.”

Kelley said since they began selling sanitizer, the community’s response has been immense. They’ve had to limit the number of bottles customers can purchase to allow as many households access to the product as possible.

“There’s at least a 7-14 day turnaround once we get low to make it, so we try to keep back stock all the time. We started making it right away, and once word got out, we were overwhelmed,” she said. “Because of the immense response, we will keep making it after the virus dissipates. We were using it for sanitizing anyway, so it only makes sense.”

Branchwater Distillery is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 8 p.m. For more information about their stock and to stay up-to-date on seasonal offerings, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/branchwaterdistillery