The Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown | Photo by James Natsis

By Randy Patrick | The Kentucky Standard

The collapse of a beer well at Barton 1792 Distillery just before noon Tuesday injured at least two people and caused a spill of tens of thousands of gallons of whiskey mash, according to officials.

Dispatch received a call at 11:51 a.m. that an ambulance was needed because a man was injured at the distillery on New Haven Road. Nelson County EMS and Bardstown Fire both responded to the medical call, and two people were transported by ambulance, a tour guide and a tourist, according to Nelson County EMS Director Joe Prewitt.

Bardstown Fire Asst. Chief Todd Spalding said three people were injured, but he only knew of two who were taken away by ambulance.

Sazarec, the parent company of Barton, released a short statement that said a beer well that held fermented mash before it is distilled “failed,” and the company didn’t know why, but it was “working to secure the area.”

Nelson County Emergency Management issued a statement just after 4 p.m. that said the mash tank collapsed, puncturing a second tank and damaging a drain pipe on a third tank, causing them also to leak.

The liquid, which is classified as a hazardous material, flowed into a nearby holding basin, but the basin overflowed, and the mash made its way into a sewer drain and a creek that is a tributary of the Beech Fork River, which runs below the distillery.

Workers constructed berms to halt the flow of the mash into the stream and keep it from flowing into the river.

Crews from Evergreen Environmental and Sazarec were working to clean up the spill and pump out the liquid. They and representatives of the state Department for Environmental Protection were on scene most of the day and Bardstown Fire Chief Billy Mattingly said they were all still there when he left around 6:30 p.m.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that the release of liquid was thought to be 50,000 gallons, but Mattingly said that by the time he left, the company had told him it was 100,000 gallons.

Spalding said that crews were draining the first tank and another 65,000-gallon tank that was damaged.

He said the company was going to have a structural engineer come to assess the damage to the tanks.

“We’re not really sure why it happened at this point,” Spalding said.

The accident Tuesday was the second industrial mishap at Barton in nine months. Last summer, two halves of a rickhouse collapsed, the first on June 22 and the second on July 4, sending an estimated 18,000 gallons of spirits flowing to a tributary of the Beech Fork River, which resulted in a fish kill.

At the time, Sazarec was to have been issued a violation notice for not reporting the incident in a timely manner and for water pollution, but a state spokesman said the company responded aggressively to the situation.