An unknown amount of alcohol leaked into waterways after a distillery warehouse in Bardstown, KY, collapsed June 23, sending barrels stacked seven stories high toppling to the ground.
Not all of the 9,000 barrels affected in the collapse leaked, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, but at least some under the rubble at Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky did spill bourbon and brandy into nearby waterways.
As a result, about 800 fish were killed in Withrow Creek, which empties into Beech Fork River, officials said. Fish were already beginning to move back into the area by Saturday, according to information from the state department.
Officials on site reacted quickly to catch alcohol leaking from the barrels before it ran down the hill into streams, but alcohol flowed from about 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. EDT when it was controlled, Nelson County Fire & Rescue Chief Billy Mattingly said.
A spokeswoman for Barton 1792’s parent company, New Orleans-based Sazerac company, declined to comment Saturday and referred questions to a Friday news release.
In the release, Sazerac said the collapse wouldn’t affect normal operations or tourism activities, and that production wouldn’t be affected because the normal “summer shutdown” for the distillery began last week.
Officials on scene began damming and diking down the hill from the warehouse on Friday afternoon. They also dug a small pond, Mattingly said, to catch runoff. The state department said about 6,000 gallons of alcohol and water had been recovered.
“Flow from the collapsed warehouse has slowed but is still steady,” an update provided by spokesman John Mura of the state Department of Environmental Protection read.
The fish kill hit a quarter-mile area of Withrow Creek where it empties into Beech Fork, officials said. They planned to continue to monitor the site over the weekend.
Sazerac officials wrote in their news release that it may be several days, even weeks, before a “full assessment” of the damage to the warehouse at Barton 1792 is completed. The cause of the collapse also has not been revealed.
“At this time,” the release said, “we do not know which Barton 1792 brands or customers will be impacted.”
Mattingly and his crews estimated the debris pile contained about 9,000 barrels, and that roughly a third of those — maybe 3,000 or so — could be damaged or open.
Did he smell bourbon in the air?
“I sure did,” he said. “I love the smell of it, but I don’t drink much.”
A Louisville Courier Journal photographer capturing images from the air on Saturday said the hundreds of barrels visible on the top of the pile appeared intact.
There’s about a 100-foot drop-off from the warehouse to where they were catching runoff, Mattingly said. There are two small streams nearby and the Beech Fork River.
It was evident Friday the pond was “catching product,” Mattingly said. The company’s news release said the distillery team implemented “a number of actions to minimize any environmental risk.”
The affected warehouse dated back to the 1940s, officials said. Engineers responded on Friday to secure the remaining warehouse structure and contain what was involved in the collapse.
It’s one of 29 barrel aging warehouses on the distillery’s 196 acres, which also feature 22 other buildings, including a still house. The distillery, established in 1879, calls itself the oldest fully operating distillery in Bardstown.