The Truth About Kentucky's Bourbon Warehouse Collapses

Bourbon — the all-American, corn-based whiskey — is undoubtedly the pride of Kentucky. It's right up there with the Derby and fried green tomatoes. And it's a well-deserved pride: making bourbon is an art. It ages for years in a never-used, charred white oak barrel. Then, it's shipped around the world, because according to Congress, true bourbon can only be made in the United States (via CNBC).

But every reward comes with a little bit of risk. And when it comes to the art of bourbon, Kentucky has seen its fair share of fires, collapses, and whiskey-infested rivers. Let's not forget that wooden barrels — and the alcohol inside of them — are highly flammable. When a 2003 thunderstorm set a Jim Beam warehouse on fire, causing an inexplicable fire tornado, it became difficult to forget how bold bourbon can truly be. After all, not every town has experienced something known as a "bourbonado" (via The Courier Journal).

Fires, collapses, and environmental impact

Bardstown, Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world. The town of 13,000 holds distilleries, an annual bourbon festival, bourbon mixology classes, and a market that sells, apparently, bourbon candy, according to its visitors' website.

And, in the last couple years alone, Bardstown has seen some pretty rough bourbon disasters. In 2018, a large chunk of the Barton 1792 Distillery warehouse collapsed, ruining around 477,000 gallons of bourbon, according to the Courier Journal. A little later, the rest of the warehouse crumbled, rounding out a disaster that miraculously resulted in no injuries.

Almost exactly a year later, a Jim Beam distillery perished only 15 miles away. The disaster drew dozens of firefighters, and crews even brought in sand to try and stop the alcohol from making its way toward a nearby creek, according to No injuries here, although the fire destroyed somewhere around 1.89 million gallons of still-aging bourbon.

The bourbon disasters of Kentucky, at least these two, didn't cause any notable physical harm — to humans, that is. But the ever-flowing barrels of bourbon, not to mention the fire, had quite an effect on the surrounding grassy, riparian landscape. As 2019 drew to a close, Jim Beam was fined $600,000 for its bourbon overflow, which crept into the Ohio and Kentucky rivers and killed thousands of fish. Nearby residents also reported a strange taste and smell in their drinking water, according to WVLT. Not exactly how you'd imagine getting your bourbon fix.