In the best of times, craft distilleries blend up boutique whiskey, gin and other spirits that a connoisseur will find nowhere else. Theirs is a deep history in Massachusetts, which in the 18th century was the country’s leading rum exporter.

Now the state has at least 18 commercial distilleries, and many have joined the effort to battle COVID-19. Like the shoemaker creating masks for health care workers, or the clothing factory fashioning gowns, distillers are creating custom blends of scarce hand sanitizer. Many sell, and sometimes give, the cleaner to nursing homes, social service groups and others whose work puts them in direct contact with people vulnerable to the coronavirus.

And they deserve the state’s support for their efforts.

A distillers group is asking for a break on the excise tax its members pay on the alcohol they use to make hand sanitizer, now $4.05 per gallon. The group also wants permission to ship directly to Massachusetts consumers, assuming use of systems that confirm customers’ ages. Distillers also want the state to expand the permission it has already given restaurants to sell take-out bottles of beer and wine to include mixed drinks sold in secure containers.

Other states — California, Washington, Kentucky, Virginia and New York — have made similar allowances, according to the distillers, many of which have lost three-quarters or more of their business due to the closures of restaurants and tasting rooms in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Excise tax relief should be straightforward for businesses working to protect the public, and the state should hurry to grant it. When distilleries do sell sanitizer to non-profit groups and health agencies, they often do so at cost, which is to say they make no profit.

Lawmakers and the Baker administration should carefully consider the other measures, too, to the extent they sustain businesses that provide an important public service.


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