A Fairfax distillery said it may be adding spirits of another type to its Southern bourbon. But they are not for sippers. They are for gas-guzzling cars.
The A. Smith Bowman distillery, maker of Virginia Gentleman bourbon, said yesterday it is contemplating producing ethanol alcohol for use in gasohol, an experimental and controversial automobile fuel which purports to offer environmental and energy advantages.
The distillery would be the first company in the Washington area to produce ethanol for gasohol and may be the first distillery in the country to do so. Gasohol has been concentrated mainly in the Midwest.
"Not a whole lot of people are really familiar with the alcohol industry," said Tom Leahy, plant superintendent for the 34-year-old distillery. "Essentially Midwest solvent producers are making it."
If the company decides to go ahead, it could begin producing alcohol for gasohol by late summer, when bourbon is not produced anyway, Leahy said. "We have some production time available, mainly in the late summer and early fall," he added. Bourbon is best produced in the winter when there is plenty of water available, Leahy said.
"Sure, we thought we could make a few dollars out of it and maybe do something to help the energy situation," he added.
Leahy said feasibility studies are under way, and a decision will be made in about a month. Leahy figures the distillery could produce a couple thousand gallons of the alcohol a day, about the same less rate as it produces bourbon.
Gasohol contains 90 percent unleaded gasoline and 10 percent ethanol. Recent Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy tests have confirmed earlier findings that using gasohol decreases tailpipe exhaust emissions of hydrocarbons slightly and carbon monoxide emmissions significantly. The tests also show slight increases in nitrogen oxide emissions and substantial increases in evaporative hydrocarbon emmissions, however.
Gasohol has been on sale in recent months at fewer than 200 gas Plus stations. Sales reportedly have been increasing dramatically in recent months.
Graham Hawkins, plant manager for Fannon Petroleum Services Inc., Virginia's sole gasohol distributor, agrees with that assessment.
"At first sales were slow," Hawkins said. "Until about two weeks ago, we were only selling 100 to 150 gallons a day. Yesterday we sold 1,000 gallons."
Fannon started making gasohol last June. It buys ethanol from a company in Decatur, III, and mixes it with its own gasoline. Although Fannon is mainly a wholesale distributor, it has set up a pump for retail business where it sells unleaded 90-octane gasohol for 75.9 cents a gallon compared with 72.9 cents for its 87-octane regular unleaded. Hawkins said.
Fannon also sells to an Alexandria car dealer for use in new cars, a soda company in Alexandria and a trucking company in Fairfax, Hawkins said.
Bowman's Leahy said distillery officals already are talking to a number of gasoline distributors about buying the product if the company decides to make it. New equipment will be needed to alter the alcohol for use in cars, Leahy said.
"We'll make a decision within a month," he added.