July 31, 2015 – Kentucky distillers will sit down with investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s office and other agencies next month to discuss the findings of the investigation into April’s Silver Trail Distillery explosion. The meeting is the latest in several since the April 24 explosion, which killed distiller Kyle Rogers and critically burned his older cousin, Jay Rogers, and follows the release of the investigator’s report earlier this month.
The explosion was ruled accidental, but was blamed on a pressure buildup inside the still that caused it to explode before a pressure relief valve was activated. The valve installed by still maker Revenoor Stills was never rated for industrial use, but was designed specifically for use on home water heaters with a minimum relief setting of 75psi. Revenoor’s Terry Wilhelm told investigators the still was never designed to be pressurized and that welds would pop at 4-5 psi, but the pressure relief valve was installed to “keep the lawyers away.” Silver Trail owner Spencer Balentine and Jay Rogers have filed a lawsuit against Revenoor Stills and Terry Wilhelm over the explosion.
“There is litigation going on, so as far as a ‘what happened and who’s at fault’ standpoint, we shouldn’t comment on that,” Kentucky Distillers Association president Eric Gregory said in a telephone interview. “From a ‘what can we do now to make sure this never happens again’…that’s something we’re very clearly interested in.” The KDA brought experts from its member distilleries together with investigators after the explosion to help them learn more about distillery operations, since there are very few safety codes that apply specifically to distilleries. While distilleries are subject to local and state building codes, boiler regulations, and fire regulations, there are no set guidelines for still construction anywhere in the United States. “We’ve seen people who are building their own stills, we’ve seen companies that are building smaller stills, obviously here in Kentucky we have Vendome, which I think personally, they kind of set the bar for still making.” Vendome executives have been invited to attend the meeting, which is still in the process of being scheduled.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Eric Gregory:
While the meeting may not lead to specific safety regulations for distilleries, Gregory sees the process as an ongoing effort. “We’re very fortunate as an industry in Kentucky that – nobody we talked to could remember the last time we had a fatality (before the Silver Trail explosion) at a distillery, in talking with the old-timers…nobody could remember that, but over the years we’ve unfortunately had some fires, weather-related things like that, but the thing is that no matter what has befallen or beset our industry, we’ve learned from it.”