Thousands of whiskey barrels crashed down in collapse of Kentucky warehouse

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thousands of whiskey barrels were sent crashing into a massive heap Friday after a large section of a storage warehouse collapsed at a distillery in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country.

About 9,000 barrels used for aging spirits were affected by the warehouse collapse at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, said Nelson County Emergency Management spokesman Milt Spalding.

No injuries were reported following the late-morning collapse, he said. No cause had been determined.

Barton bourbon is owned by Sazerac, a Louisiana-based company. Spokeswoman Amy Preske said the company was assessing the damage and declined further comment. Sazerac also owns Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The distillery is near a waterway, and officials were checking on whether any whiskey had spilled into it. Initial water samples showed no signs of contamination, said Joe Prewitt, the local emergency management director.

The structure has a 12-foot basement to help contain spills, he said.

The warehouse — a wooden structure with aluminum siding — stored about 20,000 barrels, Spalding said.

About half the structure holding the rest of the barrels was still standing, he said. Engineers who arrived Friday were looking at "trying to secure what was remaining and trying to contain what had fallen," he said.

Bardstown fire chief Billy Mattingly said crews had been working on the warehouse earlier in the week.

No one was in the building when it collapsed, Spalding said.

Kentucky's bourbon sector is in the midst of a more than $1.1 billion boom that includes expanded production facilities, more storage warehouses and new tourism centers. Kentucky distillers have more than 6.6 million bourbon barrels aging, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, but the warehouse collapse Friday was a first for Prewitt.

"We've had some warehouse fires, but I can't recall having a collapse," he said.

The Barton distillery, established in 1879, includes 29 storage warehouses and 22 other buildings, according to its website.

Bourbon ages for years in charred new oak barrels, where it acquires its color and flavor.

Bardstown is about 40 miles south of Louisville.

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