Bottles of home distilled hand sanitizer free for the taking at the end of Pete Hansen's driveway. Credit: Pete Hansen | BDN

Up Beat is a new section of the Bangor Daily News dedicated to uplifting stories. Look for tales of people helping people and things that will make you smile.

Say the word “still” and it conjures up images of clandestine backwoods moonshine operations. But there’s nothing at all secretive about Pete Hansen’s Hermon home distilling operations, which these days is turning out gallons of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is no cottage industry, instead Hansen is bottling up the sanitizer, setting it out at the end of his driveway and offering it for free to anyone who needs it.

In March, The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started recommending people wash their hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Retail shelves soon emptied of those products and people were left scrambling to find alternatives. Hansen knew he could help.

“People were losing their minds,” Hansen said. “I saw it happen [when] people went to the stores to buy some and there was none left.”

Stuck at home after a COVID-19 related job lay off, Hansen said he has plenty of time to distill the sanitizer.

“I’m a hobby distiller and I have a small 3-gallon pot still that can make a couple of mason jars’ worth of alcohol at a time,” Hansen said. “As soon as [the pandemic] happened I realized I could also make hand sanitizer.”

The same distilling process and ingredients used to create drinkable alcohols like whiskey or gin are used to make the alcohol-based sanitizer — water, sugar, yeast, heat and time. The only modification Hansen has made is getting a larger still so he can make 10 gallons of sanitizer at a time.

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It never once crossed his mind to profit from his home-based sanitizer project, something he says goes back to Maine’s early days.

“When Maine was first a state, people formed towns and communities based on groups of people being able to help each other out, and we need to slide back into that. What I’m doing is like a little tribute to that, like ‘Hey, here’s some hand sanitizer I can make. Take what you need,’” he said. “Making money off of this is not the right thing to do.”

Hansen bottles around 60 jars of sanitizer a week and puts them out on a table at the end of his Hermon driveway at 2371 Union Street. He also places a “tip jar” on the table if people want to contribute to the project. Whatever money is left, he uses to buy supplies to make more sanitizer. It costs him around $60 to make 10 gallons.

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“People that don’t have any money can just take some,” Hansen said. “Other people leave $2 or $4 or whatever they can.”

People have also left notes thanking Hansen for what he is doing.

Hansen said he plans to keep on making the sanitizer as long as the need is there, adding he has plenty of time on his hands to work at it.

“It’s fun to do,” he said. “Plus, I’m running out of yard work.”

Do you know of an uplifting story in Maine? Bangor Daily News Features writer Julia Bayly is on the lookout for Up Beat stories of people, places or things that bring smiles and laughter to your day. Her email address is

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.