On Thursday, November 7, 1996, the worst distillery fire in living memory occurred. The distillery was Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. Rivers of burning bourbon flowed like molten lava over the broad hillside and heat from the flames could be felt a half-mile away. Exploding barrels flew like shooting stars across the night sky.
The distillery, three grain trucks with their loads, seven warehouses and 7.7 million gallons of aging bourbon were destroyed.
The distillery was never rebuilt. Heaven Hill resumed production in 1997 at Jim Beam. The 1998 production was made at Brown-Forman. In 1999, Heaven Hill acquired the Bernheim Distillery. Most production was shifted there but, due to insufficient capacity, they continued to produce whiskey at Brown-Forman too.
Just one year before the fire, Heaven Hill had launched the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series. Each annual release comes from a particular year of production and the whiskey is always nine years old. Therefore, the 1996 edition, released in 2005, was the last one from Bardstown. The 1997, released in 2006, was whiskey made at Jim Beam (to Heaven Hill's specifications). The 1998 and 1999, released in 2007 and 2008, respectively, were from Brown-Forman. The 2000, the first from Bernheim, was released last fall.
I don't have any 1996 handy, so I'm tasting 1994 to represent Bardstown. (I like the 1994 better anyway.) I have 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. I've done some of it but I'm not ready to post my results. If you have that set, or something close to it, why don't you join me?
This is a rare opportunity to taste the same whiskey made at four different distilleries. Who's in?
You can participate here, through comments, or over on the discussion board at Straightbourbon.com. (The link should take you right to the thread but if it doesn't, look for the same title in the "Premium Bourbons/Specialty Bottlings" section.)
If you're an American whiskey fan, you should know about Straightbourbon.com anyway.