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Beam opens Kentucky's largest rackhouse, Frankfort's first in almost half-century

Updated: Nov. 4, 2016 at 2:23 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Two weeks to the day union workers ended their strikes at its bourbon distilleries in Clermont (Bullitt County) and Boston (Nelson County), Beam Suntory opened its largest barrel rackhouse in Kentucky. It's the first new rackhouse in Frankfort in 48 years.

"(The need) really underscores the global thirst for bourbon," a company news release quoted Chief Supply Chain Officer David Hunter as saying.

The warehouse off Georgetown Road spans more than 275,000 feet across its seven stories, with room for more than 59,000 barrels of bourbon or other distilled spirits. It's by far the largest of Beam's 112 rackhouses in Kentucky, with 17 percent more capacity than its next-largest.

"This is a big moment for our entire campus," the news release quotes Frankfort General Manager Alan Mitchell. "Not only will this give us ample space for aging our incredible products, but its close proximity to the bottling lines will make it "transportation efficient."

Beam Suntory has distillery operations at the Georgetown Road site. Its news release states plans to invest more than $1 billion to make Bourbon in Kentucky in the next five years, from production and storage facilities to grains to more workers. It has not specific how many new jobs such expansions would create.

The new rackhouse is the largest Kentucky's current regulations allow to be built. Kentucky had no building standards for distillery warehouses before 2010.

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Beam lost more than 19,000 barrels - 800,000 gallons - of bourbon when fire destroyed one rackhouse in Bardstown in 2003. Firefighters blamed a lightning strike, saying the building's collapse may have prevented the flames from spreading to two more warehouses downwind.

Kentucky's rules require rackhouses as large as the new facility to have automatic sprinkler systems, two exits on every level, fire extinguishers at every exit and on every forklight, and earthen dikes or a containment trench surrounding it to hold spills or runoff, whether it be product or water from firehoses. Roofs cannot be tar-based.

The Kentucky Distillers Association is making no push to allow for larger rackhouses, spokesman Eric Gregory told WAVE 3 News. Rather, it seeks a clarification of rules governing production and aging capacity for smaller 'craft distillers.'

WAVE 3 News is covering the rackhouse opening. WAVE 3 News at 5, 6, and 7pm will coverage detailing the impact to bourbon production, prospects for jobs, and the effects that week-long strike at Jim Beam's signature distilleries.

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