FRANKFORT — Buffalo Trace unveiled a $20 million investment Friday: a new robotic storehouse.
The 83,000-square-foot warehouse, built over the past 16 months by Gray Construction, features a completely automated storage and retrieval system, installed by Westfalia Technologies, that is thought to be the first of its kind used by a distillery. It will be used for the variety of bottled spirits produced at the Frankfort plant.
Pallets of bottled and boxed liquor are handed off to the system, which sorts them; then three cranes — named Albert, George and Edmund Haynes for pioneering bourbon makers Albert Blanton, George T. Stagg and E.H. Taylor — move them into rows and rows of pallets of bourbon, vodka, gin, and other spirits. When an order comes in for a pallet of Eagle Rare, the robot crane trundles off and gets it, just like a giant vending machine for booze.
Once the boxes arrive, they aren't touched by human hands again until they leave on a freight truck, said Mark Brown, president and CEO of Buffalo Trace Distillery.
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Another warehouse three times the size of the one in Frankfort is being built at the company's Glenmore Distillery in Owensboro.
This is the third major expansion Buffalo Trace has celebrated this month: The historic Old Taylor House on the grounds has been renovated and the visitors' center has been expanded to include four new tasting bars.
Buffalo Trace was the target of the notorious Pappy Van Winkle theft, discovered in 2013, in which at least 74 cases of the most sought-after premium whiskey in the world were stolen. Ten people were indicted in the case this spring; three people have pleaded guilty. One, former security guard Leslie Wright, testified that she was paid to look the other way as former Buffalo Trace supervisor Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger and another man stole 11 stainless-steel barrels.
Will the new warehouse make such thefts more difficult?
Yes, Brown said, without going into many specifics.
Surveillance cameras have already caught one thief lurking around the new warehouse, he said.
"We were trying to landscape and make it look nice," Brown said, "and here's this clown out there stealing the shrubs."
Liquor theft is a significant problem for everyone in the industry, Brown said.
"There have been incidents in this state of fake drivers showing up to collect loads, and having all the appropriate documentation and paperwork, and subsequently finding out they've just stolen a whole 40-foot trailer of vodka, or gin, or rum or tequila," Brown said. "State police have been quite active in trying to apprehend these thieves. Cargo theft in general is becoming a big industry. All the distillers are increasing security."