A pair of Jim Beam whiskey warehouses in Woodford County, KY, found themselves threatened on Wednesday as an as-yet-unexplained fire tore into the buildings, destroying as many as 45,000 bourbon barrels. The whiskey proceeded to rush out of the building and into the nearby Glenns Creek, which feeds into the Kentucky River. This is likely to represents a significant environmental impact on the local wildlife, given the massive amount of spirits involved.
By any measurement, this is a huge spill. Given that a single whiskey barrel holds 53 gallons of spirit, and given that each barrel can ultimately fill 150-200 standard, 750 ml bottles, this represents the loss of at least 6 million whiskey bottles, much of which has already spilled into fresh water. Fire containment crews were unable to do much to stop the flow, challenged by both the intense heat and the flammable nature of the barrel-proof liquid itself.
John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, confirmed the spill would be reaching the Kentucky River, and said that a “significant” number of fish in the creek and river would likely be killed by the toxic elements of the spirits. Likewise, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, Jim Beam parent company Beam Suntory issued a statement … in which it assures customers of access to more whiskey, without bothering to comment on the environmental disaster it finds itself linked to.
“We have a comprehensive warehouse safety program that includes regular inspections and rigorous protocols to promote safety and the security of our aging inventory,” the Beam Suntory statement says. “Given the age of the lost whiskey, this fire will not impact the availability of Jim Beam for our customers.”
Well that’s wonderful, guys, but might we suggest that the availability of more White Label isn’t exactly the thing we should be most concerned about here? If anything, this fire and the resultant spillage seems to fit into an uncomfortable recent trend that has seen major spills and disasters at several other whiskey warehouses. Last year, a Barton 1792 warehouse collapsed, spilling 120,000 gallons of spirit. And earlier in 2019, the same thing happened at O.Z. Tyler, spilling 4,000 barrels. It suggests the need for industry wide increases in rickhouse stability and security, to prevent these domino-like collapses and destructive events.