Whiskey Row in Flames; Old Forester at Risk


July 6, 2015

The bourbon industry likely held its collective breath today as a Whiskey Row building caught fire. Nobody was inside and firefighters are preparing for a possible collapse.

Whiskey Row 2The buildings under fire–111, 113 and 115 West Main Street–are co-owned by Brown-Forman, Jim and Maryann Welch, Steve Wilson (21 C owner) and Laura Lee Brown, according to a Brown-Forman spokesperson.

Currently, Brown-Forman’s Old Forester Distillery, 117 West Main St., is not on fire. A Brown-Forman spokesperson told me the fire took place a few door buildings away and that the just-under-construction Old Forester is “just a hole in the ground and was not impacted whatsoever. It’s not been under construction yet.”

Area buildings evacuated. Nobody has been reported hurt.

In 2011, the developers mentioned above saved Whiskey Row and the city has centered much of its economic efforts around it, while bourbon has largely ridden Louisville’s past to what it hopes would be a resurrection of Whiskey Row.

Brown-Forman planned to invest heavily into the new Old Forester Distillery, recently telling the public the facility will now cost $45 million to build instead of the projected $30 million. The new distillery is to include fermentation, distilling, barrel making, filling and dumping, and bottling lines.

Built in the 1850s, the historic properties  were once used for warehousing barrels and served as home to wholesalers, and other whiskey-related businesses.

“Between 1900 and 1919, BrownForman occupied 117 West Main Street on Louisville’s Whiskey Row. We’re returning to our roots with this distillery,” said Geo. Garvin Brown IV, a 5th generation descendant of the company’s founder and the company’s current board chairman, in the 2014 press release announcing the Old Forester Distillery.
Brown-Forman reported being eligible for $1.3 million in various Kentucky tax incentives for the development of the five Whiskey Row buildings. No word on how this fire will impact the distillery construction.
The first major bourbon establishment in the contemporary Whiskey Row was the popular bar Doc Crow’s, which Tweeted it closed shortly after the fire and is “evaluating” tomorrow’s hours.

I will post updates. Follow local news for live non-bourbon updates.