Whether you call it a rickhouse, rackhouse, barrel warehouse or simply a warehouse these generally non-descript buildings surrounding most distilleries play a critical role in the aging of bourbon whiskey.
Ever since the end of Prohibition, distilled spirits makers have been distilling and storing millions of gallons of bourbon whiskey in these rickhouses. Some of these buildings date back to the 1940s and 50s, seeing generations of Master Distillers and the peaks and lulls of whiskey consumption.
Among a few other guidelines, in order for a whiskey to legally be sold as bourbon, it must age “in charred new oak containers.” Traditionally, those “containers” are 53 gallons barrels. The average 53 gallon newly filled barrel weighs around 550 lbs. Place 20,000 of those in a rickhouse and you could have up to 11,000,000 lbs of weight less any bourbon lost to the Angels Share.
Inevitably, over time as with any structure there is some wear and tear. The immense amounts of weight distributed throughout these rickhouses, along with water damage, foundation settlement, and powder post beetle and termite deterioration leaves a once solid interior leaning and decaying. Rickhouse collapses can give us a real-time look at what can happen when these rickhouses age naturally and go without cautionary upkeep.
There comes at a time in the life cycle of the rickhouse where it is no longer functioning properly. The uneven weight distribution has caused the structure to lean so much that the barrels are unable to be retrieved. The leaning pulls the beams apart and the traditional method of securing them back to their original state is futile. Sophisticated engineering solutions have been developed to correct this specific issue by bracing certain areas with steel rods and other hardware.
Plumb bob’s are a common site around rickhouses.
When it comes to addressing these issues, sooner is always better than later, the more apparent the lean, the more money it costs to fix. The best time to act on any of these preventive issues is when the rickhouses are in a transition of being filled. Empty rickhouses are much easier to adjust and less time consuming considering fewer barrels have to be moved. Kentucky building codes do not require these rickhouses to be built with seismic codes in mind. This potentially puts millions of dollars of product at risk should Kentucky experience an earthquake or something similar. Being proactive about rickhouse health is the first step in securing a quality product for years to come.
Luckett & Farley is dedicated to preventative and reactive measures when it comes to rickhouses. Having worked with the likes of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, and other large names in bourbon, there is no doubt that Luckett & Farley is a leader when it comes to rickhouse renovation and design. Previous renovations include many different types of rickhouses with experience in traditional, escalator, palatized, and heat cycled rickhouses with timber, metal, or masonry style interiors.
Inquiry for Architectural and Engineering Expertise
If you would like more information about working with our experienced engineers and architects, please contact Christopher Quick at 502-585-4181 x:1148 or email him at CQuirk@Luckett-Farley.com or visit the Luckett & Farley website here.