Beam Suntory’s warehouses in Versailles, Kentucky caught fire late Tuesday, destroying 45,000 barrels of Jim Beam “relatively young whiskey.”
One of the warehouses caught fire around 11:30 PM. A second warehouse was ablaze but was controlled and put out faster than the first one. It took forty firefighters to finally put out the fire, which continued for more than 8 hours.
The cause of the fire has not been determined yet. However, Police Lt. Michael Fortney speculates that lightning could’ve sparked the flames. A security guard called in to report the fire.
Because of its flammable contents, firefighters could not immediately reach the storage units since the fire was too big and dangerous. Reports said that some of the lights on the fire trucks were burned off due to the intensity of the heat.
According to Drew Chandler, the director of Woodford County Emergency Management, one of the strategies in putting out the fire is to allow it to continue for several hours so that it burned the less distilled spirits in the debris.
Emily York, the company’s spokeswoman told CNN, “we are thankful that no one was injured in this incident, and we are grateful to the courageous firefighters from multiple jurisdictions who brought the fire under control and prevented it from spreading.”
Beam Suntory, a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings, said that the loss of the young whiskey from the fire in Kentucky will not affect the availability of the products in the market. “Given the age of the lost whiskey, this fire will not impact the availability of Jim Beam for consumers,” wrote Beam Suntory in an email to Bloomberg.
The bourbon company has a total of 126 warehouses in Kentucky, and two of which were included in the fire. Bloomberg estimates that the 45,000 barrels of whiskey represents a 1.4% loss of the spirits makers product in the state. Based on estimated retail prices from $15 to $35, the loss of products would be from $90 million to almost $300 million.
York did not provide how much loss the company incur in the fire. She shared that given that it’s a younger aged whiskey and factoring in low wholesale prices, the company’s losses are at the low end of Bloomberg’s estimate.
Effects to Environment
Aside from possible injuries, another concern raised from the fire is the potential contamination due to a runoff to a nearby water source. The destroyed storage unit was about 100 yards from Glenns Creek.
Beam Suntory has hired an emergency cleanup crew to contain the bourbon runoff to a creek that flows into the Kentucky River. The team has been coordinating with state environmental officials to ensure that cleanup operations are up to standards.
According to APnews, spill containment berms filled with sand were already laid out to prevent further runoff of spilled spirits.
John Mura, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, says, “we do know there has been runoff enter the creek, and it has made its way into the Kentucky River.”
The runoff damages the water and the aquatic life in it. According to state officials, the runoff will bring discoloration, foam, and an odor to the river.
Aside from those effects, the contaminated flow will result in low dissolved oxygen levels; thereby, killing fishes. People who use the Kentucky River for recreation purposes like fishing were advised to proceed with caution.
Kentucky is known to be the state with many bourbon businesses. Recently, incidents in warehouses have been reported.
Last year, the storage unit of The Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown fell with almost 9,000 barrels full of bourbon. The collapse of the building was due to repairs done in the decades-old building. Similar to Beam Suntory, the distillery’s warehouse was near water sources — Withrow Creek and the Beach For River.
The runoff caused the death of nearly 1,000 fish, according to Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet officials. Sazerac Inc., the distillery’s parent company, was fined with up to $25,000 per day.
In June 2018, an O.Z. Tyler Distillery rickhouse in Owensboro also collapsed. The building has a total of 20,000 barrels with 4,500 barrels falling due to the collapse.
Initially, a previous night’s storm was speculated as to the cause of the collapse. However, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that there was no environmental damage to the building. The company hired contractors to clean commence the cleanup.