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It's been a really rough month for whiskey distillers

Tim Nelson
Updated: July 06, 2018

The Fourth of July is one of if not the heaviest-drinking holidays here in the United States. Perhaps second only to pilsner-style macrobrews in popularity on Independence Day is bourbon, a uniquely American spirit that pairs well with hot dog meat and explosions.

But this Fourth of July was not a happy occasion for fans of Kentucky’s chief export. That’s because the Barton 1792 distillery suffered a warehouse collapse that saw half of its bourbon supply (roughly 9,000 barrels) either damaged or destroyed. Even weirder, it was the second such collapse in a two week span, with the fallen barrels piling on top of 9,000 more still awaiting cleanup.

So how does one distillery get so unlucky in such a short period of time? The fact that the storehouse holding 18,000 barrels was in the midst of repairs when the first collapse took place may have been a contributing factor. Barton 1792 was unable to move the surviving barrels (which were in various stages in the distilling process) due to worker safety concerns, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before the rest of the warehouse gave way

At the moment, the main concerns are environmental. After the first collapse, some of the bourbon found in the 9,000 53 gallon barrels seeped into local waterways, killing hundreds of fish in the process. That’s led state environmental officials to push for fines of up to $25,000 per day (to be paid by Barton 1792’s parent company Sazerac) that their booze flowed into the water supply. Thankfully, WKLY reports that all spills from the second collapse were contained before they could make the water more contaminated.

The lost bourbon supply is a big hit for Barton 1792, and it comes at a time when even distillers with structurally sound warehouses are starting to feel the squeeze. Bourbon’s been caught in the crossfire of President Trump’s international trade wars and ongoing NAFTA renegotiations, as EU and Mexico have levied 25 percent tariffs on US whiskey, while Canada’s set a 10 percent export tax. The tariffs are politically calculated moves to hit Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell where it hurts, harming his home state of Kentucky’s ability to conduct international trade.

In the meantime, Barton 1792 says they’re already planning the construction of a new warehouse that will store however much (if any) of the 18,000 barrels they can salvage from the wreckage. In the meantime, raise your glass to mourn the passing of so much bourbon that left this world before its time. We can only hope that their next batch sees a more fitting end.


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