Jump to content

Distillery Explosion and Fire

Max Action

Recommended Posts

Search the forum, there was a long post on this very fire.

Can you please post the link, I can't find it with "search"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Anyone want to make wild speculations?

I thought it interesting that the distillery's owner said, "It was an explosion — and alcohol does not go boom. It doesn't explode. Once it was burning, though, the alcohol made it a lot worse..." Funny, when I spray ethanol into my potato gun it certainly goes boom. Admittedly, that is only when the alcohol is atomized or in vapor form. Hmmm... whatever could cause massive quantities of alcohol vapor in a distillery?

"Only one worker was on the job when the building blew Friday morning, Glover said. The employee had just started up the distilling equipment and left the area to go to the bathroom up front when the explosion occurred at about 9:49 a.m."

In my opinion, one should never leave a still unattended when it is heating up. What if something went wrong with the condenser cooling system?


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've left a message with the Fire Marshall and when I hear back I'll post the results of that conversation.

Any news John?

I would hope all the members here would take this issue seriously. And now I'm seeing that Tuthilltown has had an accident too, so this isn't exactly something that should be dismissed. Even those that run a safe operation are at risk if their insurance company declines to renew their policy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did get to speak with the fire marshall and she offered the following:

  • The cause is labeled undetermined and still open.
  • However, she did offer that the cause is definitely not the result of a gas leak, faulty gas valve, or any other system associated with the natural gas delivery system.
  • The insurance company took the stills and associated equipment and are investigating the source in their labs. She is asking them for their results and will be forwarding those to me if the insurance company gives them over.

Max, three confirmed fires or explosions in the micro-distillery industry in this calendar year to-date means that we're all in a lot of trouble concerning higher insurance rates.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I couldn't agree more. My professional experience is in the design, manufacture, assembly, commissioning, and operation of thousand(s) gph stills. I've distilled millions of gallons (literally) on both Atmospheric and Vacuum distillation units and to this day I still don't call myself a master distiller. Yet, increasingly in this industry, we are seeing people with little or no experience placing that title on their business cards.

The program I have been discussing with Bill Owens, the group at MSU, and others is exactly what you allude to....a series of standards, safety & operational procedures and processes that will give our industry a level of certified professionalism.

For instance, one is not allowed to operate an Ethanol refinery without training in OSHA, Spill Containment, Fire & Emergency Procedures, Distillation Column operation & troubleshooting, etc, etc, etc.

Everyone needs to understand that the insurance and regulating industries are going to start taking notice of incidents in micro-distilling and beverage alcohol manufacturing and they're going to immediately revert to the standards that they force on large scale Ethanol refineries....which is something I think we can all agree is unnecessary in our industry.

That being said, we don't need that level of regulation, but if our industry gets in front of this issue and develops a sets of standards, etc...then when the regulatory industries and insurance agencies start attempting to apply standards that don't fit our industry, we can step forward with proactively developed alternative solutions better suited to what we do.

When I discussed this with Bill, I suggested that this should be a sub-committee of ADI and that by Denver, we could have a set of recommendations to present to our industry.

People on this forum have heard me say these same things in multiple posts. The more we take the lead in making our industry safer, the better solutions we'll have at our disposal. The longer we sit and wait the higher the chance that someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed. We can all do better and I am volunteering my experience, time, labor, blood, sweat, and whatever else is required to help make sure that the worst doesn't come to happen.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Its great that you would volunteer your efforts to build a set or safety standards that could be used, and I certainly look forward to your suggestions. I will although throw out a cautionary warning that individuals have to be wary of suggesting things that are safe, which may end up failing, or caused a cascade effect.. It may place you or for example ADI in a position of assumed liability.

Years ago people used to put marker buoys on shoals in the river where we live, as a way of warning unwary boaters of underwater hazards. And of course people would still hit the various shoals, and then sue the people who put out the bouys. Of course if the markers hadn't been there to begin with they would have hit the shoals, but there would have been no one to sue.

Be careful what you wish for.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John and Roger you are both correct. This is dicey stuff. DISCUS has a "standards" document I am currently reviewing. It may be we can defer to that set of standards. I am wary of involving OSHA in the development for the obvious overkill methods they might put in place that are more than any of us can afford. Self-developed policies will definitely put us ahead of the game should agencies begin to look more closely at putting requirements in place. And as Roger points out, anything we agree to "adopt" as an organization puts us into the liability loop. We must tread gently, but we must not let this go either or someone will be hurt or killed, taking no action as an industry to mitigate potentially deadly conditions is not an option.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

IMCA, International Marine Contractors Association. This association of worldwide member commercial diving companies has created a set of safe practice guidelines for commercial diving companies to follow. It is only a set of guidelines and is up to each individual diving company to determine if they will follow them. However, over the years clients, insurers and diving companies have adopted IMCA guideline as the industry standards.

A similar set of voluntary best/safe practice operational standards could also be created by an association of craft distillers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have to agree with Chuck. Simply making what you do public and not representing it as being anything "official" or "qualified" scientifically does not make you responsible for anyone referring to the info and using or not using it. I guess my basic feeling is that as an industry we have an obligation to do everything we can to make our operations and staff and visitors as safe as possible. Perhaps development of an accepted "Best Practices" for the small craft operation is something to consider.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An example of where you could get into trouble is if a trade group requires compliance with the guidelines as a condition of membership, or provides some kind of certification, but a general 'best practices' document should be pretty safe, especially with suitable disclaimers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

If you still wish to entertain that you have "no real risk" in your facility, please check to see if ALL electrical devices within the vapor zone (vapor zone? yes, compadre, see references below) of your still are Explosion Proof (EP).

In Europe, if memory serves, distilleries need to report any spill over two (2) liters to FEDERAL authorities. I am sure that no ADI member has ever spilled ANY volumes in that range.

I am also SURE that no ADI member has EVER been without cold condenser water being CONTINUOUSLY available to condense your alcohol laden vapor, and the alarm system for condenser water temperature is working and in good order and EP, right?!?!. ("Hey, Herb, didn't you turn on the garden hose?")

Do you treat your distillation zone the same way you treat your fermentation zone?

Pretty lights (EP?) attached to your columns to show off to your tour groups your gorgeous chunk o'copper!!! Florescent lights in the ceiling, are all EP. The EP vacuum your single person overnight crew uses to keep your grain mill clean? Your "Big Ass" ceiling fan is EP, right? All the motor contactors in your NEMA4 rated, IP65 rated enclosures are EP rated, too? Flashlights?, (yes Virginia, there are EP rated flashlights and they aren't that dear either, who knew??)

The explosion proof "CONFINED SPACE" ventilator you use to clean your big new fermentor. Your sump pump, especially in your Calif. compliant facility, is EP?? Under what conditions is alcohol vapor heavier than air or lighter? How big is the vapor zone around that 20,000G truck that drops your GNS? What is a freakin' vapor zone?

What about direct firing of your Charente (or was it Portugese) still? Inside your facility? While entertaining guests or "students"?

I am currently rebuilding Tuthilltown with a 5 hour "party wall" to adjoining structure. The other walls are "only" two hour walls and the distillation room (zone) will contain NO electrical devices that are not at least rated NEC Class 1, Div 2. Ventilation (EP driven roof mounted fans) will be in excess of five (5) exchanges per hour.

No lights less than NEC Class 1, Div 2. No electrical outlets what so ever. No electric pumps or mixer motors less than NEC Class 1, Div. 2.

I have found that shopping around for EP (Explosion Proof) equipment is worth while since the costs vary dramatically from vendor to vendor and ratings conformance from military to mining to petroleum refining to merely industrial.....i.e. http://www.mcmaster....b<u> Their</u> part number for a Class 1, Div. 1 light fixture is 1576K13 and is listed at just under $300USD and you can stuff it with a conventional LED lamp to show that you are "green".

Below are some interesting reference sites, but you should have at least one glass of your favorite distillate in front of you before you even think of reading them!!!

OSHA Overview: http://www.osha.gov/doc/outreachtraining/htmlfiles/hazloc.html

Hazardous (Classified) Locations, NEC code is available on: http://www.killark.com/......then go to bottom of page and download the the NEC 2011 code for Sections 500-516. Killark is a manufacturer that seems to specialize in EP equipment and interfaces.

You can work with vendors to help you yield better prices on EP equipment and substitute parts that comply with your location authority whether .AU or .EU. You can't simply strap on a EP enclosure on your existing 56C frame motor and call it macaroni. EP ratings are very specific and are more like plumbing liquid than wiring an outlet. The motor frames must meet specific mechanical and electrical standards. Heaters used in vapor zones have temperature profiles to meet. Conduit boxes look like something you would expect to see in a submarine, and you would.

Factory Mutual has a great proactive site on Loss Prevention and you can register there to download their guideline(s) for Hazardous Locations. I am off to their seminar next week (10 Dec, up in Mass.).....see also, http://www.fmglobal....spx?id=03020400. FM is sort of like UL. They have in-house experts, test and validate equipment and conduct courses.

The Europeans are ahead of the USA in this area. Of particular interest is: http://ec.europa.eu/...index_en.htm. Again a huge treasure on standards and advice on : ATmospheres EXplosive (ATEX)

DISCUS has an internal document on Hazardous Locations that is very good, but my current understanding is that this document is "internal" to full members.....having said that, the posted references in these notes are definitely cautionary enough to keep you awake for the next few nights....

Scotch Whisky Research Institute: The Management of Flammable and Explosive Atmosphere in the Scotch Whisky Industry is a great industry reference.

Once you have completed your review of your risk profile for alcohol vapor, tarry not, but move right along to NEC: Class II, Group G, Div. 1 and 2.

In reality, you may be much more likely to have an event in Class II related to grain handling than alcohol vapor....if you live in the Midwest (USA) where you can routinely run across 500,000 BU silos you will appreciate their risk profiles. Dust explosions can have a particularly interesting double whammy in that a small initial explosion will disperse a much larger dust envelope and you can end up with two nearly simultaneous explosions!!!

And if you play with wood, in your spare time, there is always NEC Class III.....

It is my opinion, from touring many facilities of both "big alcohol" and small, that the risk of alcohol vapor burning and dust related flash fire from grain milling and handling is not well appreciated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with much of what has been said on this subject. If our industry continues to suffer these tragedies, three things will happen:

  1. people will get hurt or killed
  2. Insurance companies will drop us or jack up rates exponentially
  3. The federal government will begin to intervene

I favor establishing industry safety standards that are reasonable and voluntary. I also think voluntary Industry safety training (preferably on-line) for new and existing members is needed. Properly done, this would prevent some of the accidents that may occur, prove to insurance providers that we are attempting to minimize their risk, and maybe keep the federal regulators at bay.

I welcome the opportunity to make my workplace safer and I'm sure that there are creative, low cost ways to keep safe. As an industry, I hope that we don't get into a position where the government or insurance providers are mandating beaurocratic high cost solutions and inspections.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...