Thousands of Bourbon Barrels Come Crashing Down in Kentucky

Warehouse No. 30 on the Barton 1792 Distillery campus in Bardstown, Ky., partly collapsed on Friday. About 9,000 barrels were amid the rubble.

Bourbon is flowing in Kentucky, but don’t grab a glass.

Thousands of full barrels of bourbon, and possibly other spirits, came crashing down when a storage warehouse in Bardstown, Ky., partly collapsed on Friday.

The collapse at the Barton 1792 Distillery campus was called in to emergency services about 10:55 a.m., Milt Spalding, an emergency services director in Nelson County, said during a news conference on Friday.

The structure houses about 20,000 barrels, and an aerial video showed half of the building demolished. About 9,000 barrels were amid the rubble, Mr. Spalding said. Each barrel holds 53 gallons.

9,000 barrels of aging bourbon crash to ground after building collapseCredit...CreditVideo by WLKY News Louisville

The cause of the collapse was still unknown as of Friday evening, but it did not appear to be weather related, Mr. Spalding said. No injures were reported.

The Environmental Protection Agency responded to the collapse because of concerns that alcohol may have seeped into the area’s groundwater.

Early tests came back clean, Mr. Spalding said. But the state’s emergency response team — the Division of Waste Management and the Division of Water — had been on the site and was expected to collect more samples soon, John Mura, a spokesman for Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, said in an email on Friday afternoon.

“There is a stream of bourbon and water running down the hillside that has taken much time to properly and thoroughly assess,” Mr. Mura said.

The spill has affected nearby Withrow Creek, a tributary to Beech Fork, but “it appears to be minimal,” he said.

While most of the visible barrels appear intact, Mr. Mura said, “there is a large pile of debris that is undoubtedly hiding a number of ruptured barrels.”

Mr. Spalding said that cleanup would be handled by Barton Brands, which is owned by Sazerac.

Barton has been able to “quickly construct containment and an environmental contractor is on site to start recovery,” Mr. Mura said.

According to its website, Barton 1792 Distillery was established in 1879 and is the oldest fully operating distillery in Bardstown, about 40 miles southeast of Louisville.

The distillery is on 196 acres, and there are more than two dozen barrel aging warehouses. The collapse was of warehouse No. 30, which houses a mix of distilled products at various ages, Amy Preske, a spokeswoman for Sazerac, said in an emailed statement. Ms. Preske said they had not yet been able to confirm what spirit was in each barrel as of Friday evening.

In its statement, Sazerac said that it was “assessing how many of the impacted barrels can be recovered” and that it may take days or weeks before a full report is complete.

The collapse and spill will not affect normal operations and the distillery should be open for tours on Saturday, according to Sazerac.

When asked on Friday if that area smelled overwhelmingly like bourbon, Kevin Grayson, the acting lieutenant for the Bardstown Fire Department, said, “This is Bardstown, it kind of always smells like bourbon.”

According to data shared in 2017 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply is crafted in Kentucky, where it is an $8.5 billion industry.

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