Jim Beam warehouse fire: Alcohol from 45,000 barrels floods river, kills fish

The Kentucky River is brimming with dead fish after alcohol leaked from some of the 45,000 barrels destroyed in a fire at whiskey producer Jim Beam’s warehouse.

Around 45,000 barrels of whiskey were destroyed in a fire at Jim Beam’s facility in Versailles, Kentucky. (Photo: Jim Beam)

A fire broke out at Jim Beam’s storage facility in Versailles, Kentucky, overnight on 2 July, destroying 45,000 whiskey barrels.

The cause of the fire, which has now been extinguished, is still unknown, although a spokesperson for Jim Beam’s parent company said it could have been caused by lightning.

Footage from CNN affiliate WKYT shows dead fish floating downstream as the environmental fallout from the fire continues to affect Kentucky.

A spokesperson for Beam Suntory, which owns Jim Beam, said the barrels that were destroyed contained a “relatively young whiskey from the Jim Beam mash bill.”

The statement added that, given the age of the whiskey in the barrels, the fire “will not impact the availability of Jim Beam for consumers.”

“We are grateful to the courageous firefighters from multiple jurisdictions who brought the fire under control and prevented it from spreading,” it continued.

“Initial reports suggest the fire resulted from a lightning strike, and we will work with local authorities to confirm the cause and to remediate the impacts.

“We have a comprehensive warehouse safety programme that includes regular inspections and rigorous protocols to promote safety and the security of our ageing inventory. We operate 126 barrel warehouses in Kentucky that hold approximately 3.3 million barrels for our brands.

“We appreciate the support of our neighbours and the Kentucky Bourbon community as we manage through this incident.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now the lead investigator into the fire’s overall impact on the local eco-system, according to the news agency.

It is not thought that drinking water will be contaminated, although the state of Kentucky has warned fishers not to consume the affected fish, and it may be possible for those with a keen sense of smell to detect a “Bourbon odour” in local water.

Jim Beam is not the only whiskey maker in Kentucky to face disaster this year.  A barrel storage facility at the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro suffered a partial collapse last month, with a “small fraction” of the 4,500 barrels affected suffering damage, according to a statement from the producer.

The incident follows another in June last year, when around 9,000 Bourbon barrels were destroyed when part of a warehouse, owned by Kentucky distiller Barton 1792 – part of the Sazerac Company – collapsed. One month later, the remaining structure fell to the ground, affecting a total of around 18,000 barrels.

the drinks business has contacted Beam Suntory for comment.

3 Responses to “Jim Beam warehouse fire: Alcohol from 45,000 barrels floods river, kills fish”

  1. Charles Crawfurd says:

    Reminds me of the Martell fire in 1974 and that set the Charente ablaze as well which did not do the fish population a lot of good!

  2. Sam says:

    Hi Edith…..but what about the fish?
    Is Jim Bean going to do something about the impact they’ve had on local wildlife?
    Maybe some drunk/hungover bears in the local area now?

  3. Fascinating to know that you “reached out” to Beam Suntory for comment. Would it not have been easier just tio ask them?

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