Whisky Magazine Issue 6
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Why Jim Murray is talking to the phoenix
I had seen snippets of film and countless photographs. But nothing had prepared me for this. I sat on my own staring at a television screen within the expanded Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum in Bardstown, Kentucky. And what I watched made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach: the death of a great distillery.
To the entirely incongruous and banal background of ballads and marching music, all provided courtesy of a Scottish pipe band, eight warehouses and a distillery, Heaven Hill, combusted in front of my eyes. The film was obviously made by the fire-fighters and the narrator while apparently relishing the sight of exploding barrels, lowered his tone and spoke in a grieving whisper as he listed the few hoses and hatchets that perished in the inferno.
When the blaze broke out, I was in England and it was a colder than normal November night in 1996. Not 3,000 miles away a friend rang me and told me what was happening. Even that did nothing to prepare me for the awesome sight that projected from the television screen a few weeks back.
From the film I recognised places where I had happily wondered with distiller Craig Beam and my son James. The place where I used to park my car and the very spot where I had written some of my Complete Book of Whisky were now the epicentre of the kind of blaze which even Dante at his most imaginative could not have conjured. In powerful winds, unearthly tornadoes of fire corkscrewed upwards, and at one stage I felt certain that I could spot the ex...