Spring Mill Distillery Shifts Production to Meet Growing Demand

Spring Mill Distillery Shifts Production to Meet Growing Demand

Spring Mill Distillery President and Founder John Sleeman, far right, delivers hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer to Guelph General Hospital.

Spring Mill Distillery President and Founder John Sleeman, far right, delivers hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer to Guelph General Hospital.

Shifting production from spirits to sanitizer is not the way Cooper Sleeman, manager of sales and marketing for Spring Mill Distillery, expected to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the start-up his father John opened on the banks of the Speed River in Guelph, Ont. last April. COVID-19 is teaching us that expecting the unexpected is the new normal.

Shifting production from spirits to sanitizer is not the way Cooper Sleeman, manager of sales and marketing for Spring Mill Distillery, expected to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the start-up his father John opened on the banks of the Speed River in Guelph, Ont. last April. COVID-19 is teaching us that expecting the unexpected is the new normal.

“If you had told me one year ago I would be in the hand sanitizer business, I wouldn’t have believed you,”

– Cooper Sleeman, Spring Mill Distillery

“If you had told me one year ago I would be in the hand sanitizer business, I wouldn’t have believed you,”

– Cooper Sleeman, Spring Mill Distillery

Flash back to late February. Cooper was sitting in Spring Mill’s weekly management meeting with his father, their master distiller Doan Bellman, and the companies’ head of finance. Doan shared a graph illustrating the increasing cases of COVID-19 globally. No Ontario cases had been reported yet, but already they could foresee it was not a matter of if, but when, the pandemic would impact their business. The final minutes of that meeting focused on minimizing the risk for their staff and keeping the business operating when the outbreak reached the region.

In less than a week, the first cases arrived in the province. Schools closed, followed by non-essential businesses. It became apparent there was a lack of supplies such as hand sanitizer, especially for hospitals and front-line workers. Rationing was starting. At the next management meeting, the talk centred on how the start-up distillery could help.

“We knew we were going to shift our production to produce hand sanitizer, but we wanted to make sure we did it properly,” Cooper explains. “We had watched a few other distillers that had already gone to market, but knew there were risks with rushing the product out without all the proper protocols in place.”

Once Spring Mill had approvals for its product from Health Canada the shift of production from spirits to sanitizer happened fast. The biggest challenge was sourcing the right containers to bottle the product. They relied on the kindness of suppliers who donated materials to keep their costs down. KinsBrae Packaging in nearby Cambridge donated personal size 30ml bottles; Stanpac donated 1.89L milk jars (reserved for hospitals, nursing homes, and other front-line workers) from its production facility near Niagara; and, rayment & Collins donated all the labels.

Flash back to late February. Cooper was sitting in Spring Mill’s weekly management meeting with his father, their master distiller Doan Bellman, and the companies’ head of finance. Doan shared a graph illustrating the increasing cases of COVID-19 globally. No Ontario cases had been reported yet, but already they could foresee it was not a matter of if, but when, the pandemic would impact their business. The final minutes of that meeting focused on minimizing the risk for their staff and keeping the business operating when the outbreak reached the region.

In less than a week, the first cases arrived in the province. Schools closed, followed by non-essential businesses. It became apparent there was a lack of supplies such as hand sanitizer, especially for hospitals and front-line workers. Rationing was starting. At the next management meeting, the talk centred on how the start-up distillery could help.

“We knew we were going to shift our production to produce hand sanitizer, but we wanted to make sure we did it properly,” Cooper explains. “We had watched a few other distillers that had already gone to market, but knew there were risks with rushing the product out without all the proper protocols in place.”

Once Spring Mill had approvals for its product from Health Canada the shift of production from spirits to sanitizer happened fast. The biggest challenge was sourcing the right containers to bottle the product. They relied on the kindness of suppliers who donated materials to keep their costs down. KinsBrae Packaging in nearby Cambridge donated personal size 30ml bottles; Stanpac donated 1.89L milk jars (reserved for hospitals, nursing homes, and other front-line workers) from its production facility near Niagara; and, rayment & Collins donated all the labels.


Spring Mill Distillery have already produced and sent into the Guelph community more than 10,000 30ml bottles of hand sanitizer.

Spring Mill Distillery have already produced and sent into the Guelph community more than 10,000 30ml bottles of hand sanitizer.


Two weeks into production, Cooper and his small team of employees are working around the clock bottling, packing, and labelling hand sanitizer to fulfill the huge backlog of orders. He figures they’ve put 10,000 30ml bottles into the Guelph community for personal use and several hundred of the larger size milk bottles to health-care workers and facilities. He is so busy he does not have time to think about the 85% revenue loss COVID-19 is having on Spring Mill’s monthly sales. Some days tears come from exhaustion; the next, sadness seeps in after listening to stories of thanks from front-line workers. After a full-day at the distillery, Cooper brings hundreds of bottles home and labels them with his fiancée and in-laws while eating dinner and watching TV —many nights losing track of time and working long past midnight.

“You get really choked up when people tell you how much the work you are doing means to them,” says Cooper. “It feels so great to have the opportunity to help our community. I’m looking forward to the moment the dust settles and we can sip a strong stiff drink, just reflect, and think back to this crazy time.”

Spring Mill Distillery is donating any proceeds from this program back into the Guelph community.

Two weeks into production, Cooper and his small team of employees are working around the clock bottling, packing, and labelling hand sanitizer to fulfill the huge backlog of orders. He figures they’ve put 10,000 30ml bottles into the Guelph community for personal use and several hundred of the larger size milk bottles to health-care workers and facilities. He is so busy he does not have time to think about the 85% revenue loss COVID-19 is having on Spring Mill’s monthly sales. Some days tears come from exhaustion; the next, sadness seeps in after listening to stories of thanks from front-line workers. After a full-day at the distillery, Cooper brings hundreds of bottles home and labels them with his fiancée and in-laws while eating dinner and watching TV —many nights losing track of time and working long past midnight.

“You get really choked up when people tell you how much the work you are doing means to them,” says Cooper. “It feels so great to have the opportunity to help our community. I’m looking forward to the moment the dust settles and we can sip a strong stiff drink, just reflect, and think back to this crazy time.”

Spring Mill Distillery is donating any proceeds from this program back into the Guelph community.

Written by: David McPherson

Written by: David McPherson