Filling sanitizer MAIN ART

Brenda Vahling begins to fill containers on Friday with their mix of hand sanitizer, for Crossroads Cancer Center in Effingham and others.

Twilight Distillery in Stewardson is changing its “recipe” from making brandy to making “Lightning Strike” hand sanitizer due to the COVID-19 health crisis and a shortage of supply.

Twilight Distillery, located on the same property as Vahling Vineyards, started making brandy last year. They offer nine varieties of brandy and brandy liqueur: Straight & Smooth, Blackberry Blast, Misty Blues, Good Time Lime, Chuckling Cherry, Mighty Maple, Lovely Lemon, Twenty Two Roses and Midnight Run.

Lightning Strike bottle

“Lightning Strike” hand sanitizer is now on hand at area health providers, thanks to Twilight Distillery in Stewardson.

The process of making the brandy takes a while. They can make about 40 gallons of alcohol a day. Then the brandy spirits need about four to six months to mellow. They age in oak barrels. Twilight has a stock of 1000 cases of brandy on hand, so they can take about two and a half months to produce a different product.

They got a call from a health center about making sanitizer, so now they are using their still to respond to the area’s needs.

Vahling and still

Brenda Vahling, the owner of Twilight Distillery in Stewardson, displays the column still in the distilled spirits plant, and the bottles that will be filled with hand sanitizer.

Brenda Vahling is the owner of Twilight Distillery.

“I felt honored that the Crossroads Cancer Center asked us to do this,” said Vahling. “Then Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital found out and contacted us.”

It’s only been about two weeks since they got the calls. They had already mixed their first batch and were filling bottles on Friday.

Column still bubbling

The Twilight Distillery column still begins to bubble-up with the 160 proof alcohol (80%) that is produced for the hand sanitizer.

“It would be more profitable, if we just kept making brandy,” Vahling said. “But this is a service to the community.”

What helped the small distillery to be able to afford the switch-over was a recent ruling by the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR).

Column still

The column still at Twilight Distillery in Stewardson is cooking up alcohol and sending it through the copper tubing to make needed hand sanitizer.

“With many Illinois-based distillers shifting operations to produce needed hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is ensuring any alcohol purchases made for production be tax-exempt,” said IDOR Director David Harris. “The Department of Revenue is pleased to help these distillers who have answered a call to service by volunteering to produce hand sanitizer, a product so urgently needed.

“Normally, distillers incur a tax liability based on the amount and strength of alcohol used in distillation. On April 7, IDOR sent distillers guidance on how to claim a tax deduction on their alcohol purchases to remove any tax liability.”

Barrels aging brandy

The nine varieties of Twilight Distillery brandy is being aged in oak barrels and available at Vahling Vineyards in Stewardson.

The tax deduction on alcohol gave Twilight Distillery enough wiggle room to get on board and help meet the need.

“When the cancer center reached out to us, we knew permission had been granted,” Vahling said. “We looked up the rules from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and emailed the State. The next day we got an answer. It was kind of a surprise.”

The biggest hurdle was getting supplies.

“We started looking for bottles and ingredients, which were hard to get,” Vahling said. “There wasn’t extra supply around and the demand has increased. We were lucky to get these bottles. They were in a warehouse.”

Those bottles were all filled on Friday, supplying 800 containers of “Lightning Strike” hand sanitizer. They were expecting a shipment of 7000 more bottles this week, as well as more glycerine. To make the sanitizer requires glycerine, hydrogen peroxide and a de-nature ingredient. It also takes alcohol. That’s where the still comes in.

Twilight has a pot still and a column still. The column still is being used to produce the alcohol for the sanitizer.

The cancer center asked Twilight if they could make 80% alcohol (160 proof) for the hand sanitizer.

“They said, ‘We will take all you can produce,’” Vahling said. “We will start deliveries when the labels get here.”

Vahling and brandy

Brenda Vahling, the owner of Twilight Distillery in Stewardson, displays the nine varieties of brandy that they produce and sell at Vahling Vineyards.

Vahling says there is a waiver to the normal license until June 30. So, they plan on making sanitizer until that time.

“We have a small still,” Vahling said. “But, we can make about 8000 bottles between now and then.”

Vahling Vineyards is located at 2683 County Highway 6, Stewardson, IL 62463, a mile north of Stewardson off Route 132 and 1 1/4 mile east on Road 400 N (Mode Road).

In addition to “Lightning Strike” hand sanitizer, they offer Twilight Brandy and Vahling Wines.

During the crisis, pick-up is available. Phone (217) 682-5409. Normal hours are: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday, Noon–5 p.m. Mondays, Closed. Visit their website

John Curtis can be reached at

John Curtis can be reached at

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