Paul Menta Makes Hand Sanitizers for Service Workers from Rum, Key West-Style

By Edible South Florida

Menta with commissioner Craig Cates
Paul Menta of First Legal Rum Distillery in Key West, Florida, with commissioner Craig Cates.

Hand sanitizer quickly became a hot commodity in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately for service workers in Key West, Florida, Paul Menta of First Legal Rum Distillery took matters into his own (clean) hands.

He made his own product using the runoff – impurities and oils – from distilling rum. Known as the “tails,” the 140-proof alcohol is mixed with aloe and transmission gel, which is used in ultrasounds. They then bottled it. The sanitizer dries quickly and is a handy product for those who can’t get to a sink to wash their hands.

Menta gave away the 3-oz bottles around town to service workers, retailers, mail carriers and anyone else hard at work in Key West during high season for tourists in mid-March. He also got other distilleries around the country involved in producing sanitizer. Since then, Menta’s “Ruminizer” has helped over 10,000 people in Key West and the Florida Keys, including doctors, nurses, the local police and sheriff’s department and nursing homes.  

The First Legal Rum Distillery is now selling its sanitizer online and packaging it with t-shirts to support a local charity, the Sister Season Fund, which Menta is also involved with. He’s also part of Key West Cares, set up to help Hurricane Dorian victims in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas with food, supplies and labor to rebuild homes and businesses. 

Nonprofits and anyone who can’t afford the sanitizer can get some without charge. To keep up with demand, Menta has had to dip into his actual rum, not just the byproduct, but there’s a benefit, he says.   

“Police, sheriffs, doctors, teachers, lawyers, politicians and citizens now have one thing in common – we all smell like Legal Rum!”

Read more Beyond the Plate local food hero storiesLearn more about our partners, Niman Ranch at

Get more local stories at Edible South Florida.