Bourbon Industry

Bourbon warehouse cleanup is underway after collapse sent thousands of barrels tumbling

A Western Kentucky bourbon distillery where part of a rickhouse collapsed on Monday says it plans to take the entire rickhouse down.

O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro said the quadrant of Warehouse H where the collapse occurred “has been successfully deconstructed,” and barrels are being removed. There has been “minimal leakage” of bourbon, the distillery said in a news release Saturday.

Company employees have been meeting daily with representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and local officials, the company said. Containment measures include an earthen berm around the warehouse, along with concrete barricades, chain link fencing and erosion control devices.

“We are very pleased with the progress moving into the weekend and realize that it will take some time to remove all the barrels from the site, but our first concern, and priority, is safety,” said Jacob Call, master distiller and director of operations for the Daviess County facility.

No one was injured in the overnight collapse, but about 4,500 barrels of bourbon were involved. The warehouse holds 19,400 barrels.

Call said O.Z. Tyler has created a plan for the warehouse that involves a “controlled collapse” of the entire structure at some point.

“We will keep removing barrels from the pile,” Call said. “That will hopefully allow the rest of the barrels to come down gently and ‘nest’ into the pile. That way we can bring the building down slowly and at our choosing.”

The company said “an ultra high reach demolition excavator is being used to surgically pluck barrels from the warehouse.” Damaged barrels will be repaired if possible or disposed of if not. The company said the bourbon is to be “re-barreled and moved to storage.”

The distillery has remained in operation and open for tours in the wake of the incident.

O.Z. Tyler is owned by South Carolina-based Terressentia, which bought the historic 26-acre site in 2014. The company began distilling there in 2016.

Green River Distillery began distilling on the property in 1885, but the operation burned in 1918. Medley Distilling Co. operated there from 1936 to 1993.

The collapse of Warehouse H was the second rickhouse collapse in Kentucky in less than a year. On June 22, 2018, half of a rickhouse at the Barton distillery in Bardstown came down. The other half fell two weeks later.

Karla Ward is a native of Logan County who has worked as a reporter at the Herald-Leader for 18 years. She covers breaking news.