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Lightning strike at US whiskey warehouse destroys nine million litres

04 July 2019

A fire at the Jim Beam bourbon whiskey warehouse in Versailles, Kentucky, was started by a lightning strike, company owner Beam Suntory said on July 3. Local media said some 45,000 barrels of ageing whiskey were destroyed in the blaze, equivalent to 6.75 million bottles or nine million litres.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

Several fire crews responded to the incident but they could not get close to the building due to the intense heat created by the burning alcohol. The fire was so intense that it melted lights on the firetrucks, authorities said.

The fire is being allowed to burn out to minimise runoff into local rivers.

One warehouse was completely destroyed in the blaze, wiping out about 1% of Jim Beam’s bourbon inventory, the company said. A second warehouse also caught fire, but that blaze was brought under control. Losses are anticipated to be more than US$100 million.

Beam Suntory has hired an emergency cleanup crew and state officials are working to control the runoff.

On June 16, a warehouse at the O.Z. Tyler distillery in Owensboro, KY, partially collapsed, spilling 4,000 barrels of whiskey.
In 2018, about 18,000 barrels of bourbon were lost when a warehouse in Bardstown, Kentucky, collapsed during building work. The runoff killed around 1,000 fish in nearby waterways.

The Louisville Courier Journal interviewed American whiskey expert Fred Minnick about recent mishaps at Kentucky bourbon warehouses and distilleries.

Minnick said that the fact that storms have been blamed for two of the three incidents was troubling because thunderstorms and increasingly severe weather tied to climate change appear to be hammering Kentucky.

"This stuff is not happening in Canada, in Ireland or Scotland," Minnick said. It's happening in Kentucky. These are not good things for bourbon because (the disasters are) not happening in other prominent distilling areas.

"I'm very concerned climate change is having an impact on American whiskey."


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