Fire Protection in Kentucky Bourbon's New Urban Interface

Flammable liquids manufacturing? Check. 

Flammable liquids rack storage warehouse? Check.

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Open Flame? Check.

Atrium? Check.

Visitors unfamiliar with building layout? Check.

The new Old Forester distillery, located in the historical “Whiskey Row” block of downtown Louisville, KY, presented the distillery and design team with many fire protection and life safety challenges. The building, which opened for public tours on Friday, June 15, 2018, shares the block with other tenants including restaurants, apartments, a speakeasy, and retail stores. This, all in the same block that suffered a major fire during a renovation project almost 3 years before the distillery opened.

Design and construction of the new distillery required years of planning, coordination, and execution – since at least 2013. Fire protection and life safety was critical during the entire process, as this type of facility presented many hazards not typical of downtown city blocks. Many of Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries can be found in the countryside, alongside horse farms and back roads. With the bourbon boom in recent years, many distillers are capitalizing on the excitement and tourism, building distilleries in urban areas.

The design team, including Bravura Architecture, Kerr-Greulich Engineers, Brown Forman staff, and various consultants, had to keep Fire Protection and Life Safety a main concern while limiting its effect on the aesthetic goals of the project. Fire Protection and Life Safety features were successfully implemented, due to the planning and coordination of the entire team.

Some of these features include:

·       VESDA® by Xtralis®: air sampling smoke detection to detect smoke very quickly, and gas vapor detection to detect flammable alcohol vapors.

·       Ansul® AR-AFFF Foam: a foam-water sprinkler system, designed for alcohol fuel fires, to suppress a fire.

·       Tyco window sprinklers to protect glass atrium walls.

·       In-rack sprinklers to protect the barrel racks.

·       Minmax® UniVario® Industrial heat detectors for activation of deluge sprinkler systems serving barrel charring and toasting exhaust hoods.

·       A Siemens voice evacuation fire alarm and emergency communication system.

·       A smoke exhaust system for the atrium, to prevent smoke from traveling to multiple floors in the event of a fire.

·       Class I/Division 1 equipment in hazardous areas such as the barrel warehouse.

·       Compartmentalization utilizing fire barriers, fire walls, firestopping, etc.

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Contractors utilized BIM models to coordinate among trades, allowing ductwork, piping, sprinklers, etc. to all be installed in tight spaces and minimize aesthetic impact. Through careful planning by the design team and coordination by the contractors, the life safety systems specified by the engineers were implemented without these systems being easily noticed and distracting from the distillery’s unique features. 

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In fact, most visitors will likely only give attention the beautiful copper stills, read the bourbon quotes on the walls, and gaze at the historical decorations, while learning about the bourbon making process and its history. On the other hand, as a fire protection geek, I observed the fire and life safety systems during the tour and was impressed with how it all came together. And at the end, we all sampled an excellent Kentucky bourbon whiskey.