Old Forester Distillery - The 117 Series - Whiskey Row Fire, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The day was July 6, 2015. The construction crews working to revitalize ‘Whiskey Row’ on Main Street in LouisvilleKentucky had just wrapped up their day. The thermometer hit a high of 88° that day, pretty normal for a summer day in the Bluegrass state. Within an hour after the crews wrapped up work cutting out old cast iron pipes with acetylene torches, the first calls of smoke starting coming in. Louisville Fire Department logs show the first official call was at 16:31 hours. By the time they got to Whiskey Row the fire was consuming multiple buildings between Main Street and Washington Street.

July 2015: Four Alarm Fire Strikes ‘Whiskey Row’

That ominous call quickly escalated to a 4-alarm fire requiring the service of seven trucks, 13 engines and about 90 firefighters.

Fire Chief Colonel Greg Frederick said, “From a complexity standpoint it [the Whiskey Row fire] was probably one of the top fires we’ve ever had. This was so complex because it was several buildings that were together. The fire started in the basement and then there were acetylene tanks down there that exploded when my guys were in it.”

The massive fire on July 6, 2015 lasted for several hours but was eventually extinguished, although hotspots continued to pop up that evening and into the next day on July 7th. Fortunately for everyone that was involved from nearby businesses and firefighters there were no injuries reported during the blaze. The structure that today is Old Forester Distillery received some water and smoke damage but was saved from the actual fire itself.  

Frederick added, “The biggest thing that was a mystery was on the day that we were fighting the fire, we were flowing probably 10,000-15,000 gallons of water per minute. So, I would assume the basement is going to be full of water. We went in there and there was nothing. We were like where the heck did all the water go. We don’t even know. We pulled the manhole covers on Washington Street [behind the buildings, sloping toward the Ohio River] because we thought well maybe it went into the storm system. We couldn’t find anything, they were dry. It was strange.”

What is a Four Alarm Fire?

A four-alarm fire is a catastrophic fire event that happens only a couple of times a year for most city fire departments says Desert Fire. If a dispatch call goes out for a four-alarm fire, you can expect up to 21 emergency vehicles, including 6 battalion chiefs.

Old Forester Celebrates Firefighters with Release of “Whiskey Row Fire” Bourbon & Donation

Old Forester Distillery has released its latest in The 117 Series – Whiskey Row Fire. This commemorative bottle honors the 7th anniversary of the fire on Whiskey Row that nearly destroyed the historic block.

“I remember that day and that fire vividly,” said Frederick. “We are extremely proud of our brave firefighters who risked their lives and saved the block.”

Teams of brave Louisville first responders were able to contain and extinguish the catastrophe, preserving the site for the Old Forester Distillery at 117/119 West Main Street. The block is now home to restaurants, bars, a hotel and other businesses – and has become a tourist destination.

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'Whiskey Row' July 6, 2015 | Whiskey Row Bourbon | 'Whiskey Row' July 7, 2022

In 2020, men and women of Louisville Fire, many of whom fought the blaze, selected eight single barrels from a lot filled the same day they extinguished the fire. All eight barrels sold out in two days and proceeds were donated to the Louisville Firefighter Disaster Fund. The remainder of the barrels filled that day slumbered an additional two years in the warehouse and are now batched together to create the 117 Series – Fireman Barrels.

Frederick and Louisville Fire Department members were at the distillery for the release of this year’s 117 Series Fireman Barrels. Old Forester is making a charity donation from the sales of the Whiskey Row Fire Bourbon to the Louisville Fire Department to help firefighters who are in distress.

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Old Forester 117 Series – Whiskey Row Fire Bourbon Tasting Notes

The 117 Series is a limited-expression lineup that debuted in Spring 2021. This product line from one of America’s oldest distillers pays homage to their recently completed distillery at 117 W. Main Street and to the many years Brown-Forman has been located at this address on Whiskey Row. The 117 Series offers a deep dive, or deconstruction, on how either the individual Old Forester Whiskey Row Series expressions are crafted or highlights other historical moments of Old Forester’s history on Whiskey Row.

This year’s release of Old Forester Whiskey Row Fire is bottled at 100 proof. Here are the tasting notes provided by Old Forester.

Color: Dark orange, brown.
Aroma: Sweet notes of honey comb, malt and marzipan mingle with delicate cedar and fresh oak notes atop cherries laced with vanilla cream.
Flavor: Brown sugar, marzipan, vanilla and honey sweeten a mix of berry fruit.
Finish: Long notes of honey and vanilla linger with a touch of fruit.

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky Series 117 – Whiskey Row Fire Bourbon is bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). It is available now at the retail shop at Old Forester Distilling Co. with a suggested retail price of $59.99 for a 375mL bottle in limited quantities. 

Is it hard to get? Yes, people were lining up down the street and around the corner on the day it came out. Online sales started earlier that day and the entire supply was sold out in a mere 23 minutes.

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What is ‘Whiskey Row’ on Main Street in Louisville, Kentucky?

Whiskey Row sits on Main Street in downtown Louisville, Kentucky about a block from the Ohio River. According to the Kentucky Historical Society the area, “became so populated with whiskey firms by the 1840s that it was dubbed “Whiskey Row.” There, distilleries, warehouses, sales agents, and distributors all operated. Their various roles in the liquor market helped make Kentucky the leading producer of distilled spirits.”

Historically, when distillers throughout the state were ready to bring their spirits to market, they would send barrels of whiskey by train or wagon to Louisville. From there it would travel by steamboat up and down the Ohio River. The Ohio River stretches 981 miles from its starting point of the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to its official ending point in Cairo, Illinois, where it flows into the Mississippi River. From there it travels all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of New Orleans, a historical destination for Kentucky bourbon.

Whiskey Row features a collection of Revivalist and Chicago School-style buildings, many with cast-iron storefronts, that were built between 1852 and 1905 according to Old Louisville Guide. As you look at the architecture on the front of the Old Forester Distillery you can see many of these mid-1800s cast iron features.

Unfortunately, when Prohibition hit Whiskey Row pretty much dried up and the downtown distillery businesses closed. Many of these cast-iron storefronts were scheduled for demolition but were eventually saved. It was during the renovation of these buildings that the massive 4-alarm fire took place. Fortunately, many of the storefronts were saved and the block is once again thriving with a distillery, restaurants, retail locations and housing. The block is also now anchored by Hotel Distil, a 205 room luxury hotel and restaurant tucked in on the end of the block.  

Louisville

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