Bourbon Industry

Barrel by barrel. Here’s how a distillery is trying to save bourbon after warehouse collapse.

How do you untangle a multistory pile of broken barrels and smashed staves to rescue the surviving bourbon? Very carefully.

Since last month, Barton 1792 has been working to pluck one barrel after another from the pile formed when a barrel warehouse collapsed at the Bardstown distillery. The first half, with about 9,000 barrels, fell abruptly on June 22; the second half finally came down on July 4, with another 9,000 piling up.

The cleanup at Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, where an 18,000-barrel warehouse collapsed in June and July, began in earnest the week of July 9. It’s expected to take months, as workers retrieve and inspect each barrel one at a time. Photo provided

According to a video by Bob Mahanna, Barton safety director, first a large crane gently picks up a barrel and lowers it to the ground. A second crane moves it away from the pile and a Bobcat scoops it up and takes it to an inspector.

If a barrel has obvious damage or leaks, it is moved to a separate area for “coopering,” as barrel repairs are called.

If a barrel can’t be readily repaired, the whiskey is drained into a clean tote tank and held until it can be rebarrelled.

Undamaged barrels are removed once lot numbers are documented.

Cranes began recovering barrels, one at a time, in early July. The cleanup is expected to continue for months. Photo provided

The recovery effort began about July 9 and is expected to continue as the distillery sorts through thousands of intact barrels.

“We do not have a count of what’s done and how many are saved that we can share at this time,” said Amy Preske, Barton spokeswoman.

Sazerac, which is the parent of Barton 1792, hasn’t said what will become of the surviving spirits, although whiskey collectors have speculated there will someday be a commemorative bottle or two.

But Preske said they haven’t made plans because they just don’t know how much will be recovered yet.

She also said they haven’t yet determined why the warehouse collapsed.

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After the barrels are retrieved and repaired, if necessary, they are loaded onto a truck for removal from the site of the collapsed warehouse. Photo provided

“We’re still in recovery mode,” she said.

Not all of the bourbon could be saved: When the warehouse first collapsed in June, a retention pond was created to catch whiskey runoff. But the state has notified Sazerac the company faces a potential fine after a fish kill. According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, at least 3,800 fish were killed in a one-third mile stretch of nearby Withrow Creek.