Revamp of Kentucky Whiskey Bottle Tower Lifts Spirits

Since 1936, the home base of spirits provider Brown-Forman Corp. in Louisville, Kentucky, has become known by the iconic whiskey bottle-shaped water tower on top of its corporate offices.

At 62.5 feet (19.1 m) tall and standing 218 feet (66.4 m) in the air, the riveted carbon steel “bottle” is typically re-designed once every 10 years or so to include a new shape, cap design, and label.

Containment — Inside of Scaffolding Containment in Louisville, KY

Each iteration of the tower, originally used as a fire-suppression tool for Brown-Forman’s local distillery, now reflects one of Brown-Forman’s numerous prestigious brands. Those brands include Jack Daniel’s and the current Old Forester version, and the visibility attracts tourists who can see the tower from downtown.

“Everything is called Whiskey Row, said Mike Dudukovich, general manager for locally based Howell & Howell Contractors, Inc. “There are a lot of distilleries. It’s the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and everyone always ends up at the big whiskey bottle. It’s the biggest one in the world.”

Top Shelf

Howell & Howell has become a staple on these projects over the years, with each successful job building more trust with the client for the next time.

“This is the fourth time we’ve done this bottle,” Dudukovich said. “Every time they change the label on the production bottles and the label on the tank. They want to make it look like the little bottles of whiskey you buy in the store.”

The most recent assignment — which took place in late 2016 and early 2017, prior to the Kentucky Derby horse race — included extra hurdles for the five-man crew to navigate. Rather than merely painting over the old version, the client opted for a deeper investment.

“The existing coating consisted of over 40 layers of paint, and the coating had fractured and was delaminating from the tank,” Dudukovich said. “In the past, we just overcoated it. But this time, they said ‘We’ve got the time, we’ve got the money, let’s do it right.’”

Bottled Up

To prepare for blasting off the old coatings, the tank was completely scaffolded using a system from American Scaffolding, Inc., with a 10-mil (254.0 microns) reinforced plastic wrap from Eagle Industries around the outside for containment. The crew also had to protect the existing glass atrium roof by temporarily moving numerous plant trays to a safe site, and then covering it in foam and plywood for the job.

Containment — Containment Being Installed in Louisville, KY

Because this was a lead abatement project with a lead level of 89,000 ppm, the three crew members inside the containment wore Tyvek suits and pressurized Bullard blast hoods purchased from Marco as specialized personal protective equipment (PPE). Cleaning stations and a shower trailer were set up upon exiting. Meanwhile, an equipment operator on the ground stayed in radio contact with a foreman on the roof. All crew members also wore standard PPE, such as hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, and work boots. Ladders were used to access the scaffolding.

An 8-ton (7,257.5 kg) Schmidt blast pot, powered by a 1,600 cfm (45.3 m³/min.) air compressor supplied by Whayne Power Systems, was utilized for the abrasive blasting process. Over about 10 days, the crew blasted the tower’s surface to bare metal to achieve NACE No. 3/Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) Surface Preparation (SP) 6: Commercial Blast Cleaning. A 40,000 cfm (1132.7 m³/min.) dust collector from BlastOne was utilized to pull negative air inside the containment, while HoldTight 102 was applied after blasting to prevent flash rusting.

A tunnel was erected on the roof to move spent abrasive from the containment area to trash chutes attached to the building’s side. The chutes, which included a liner to prevent dust from sticking, went to a sealed dumpster on the ground.

“Once everything was clean, we went back to the top, wiped the bottle down, then started the painting process,” Dudukovich said.

Distilling Coatings

The painting process was made slightly easier because, unlike prior jobs at the site, the crew didn’t have to deal with the intricacies of a specific logo. Instead, they simply had to prepare the tower for the eventual application of the new Old Forester logo, which would be done utilizing a graphic wrap manufactured by 3M and designed by local company Showtime Sign & Design, Inc.

“The first three times, everything was hand-lettered,” Dudukovich said. “This was the first time they elected to go with a wrap. The wrap was cheaper than having to paint it three times. It’s guaranteed not to fade for 10 years.”

The four-part coating system included the initial application of Rust-Oleum’s 9100 System DTM Epoxy Mastic as the prime coat, followed by a stripe coat along the edges, and then a third installation of the 9100 epoxy as an intermediate coat.

“The stripe coat was for all the rivets, joints, seams, and edges where the plates were riveted together,” Dudukovich explained. “This was an old, riveted tank built in 1934, so there were a lot of sharp edges.” Each coat cured overnight.

The primer and intermediate coats were spray applied using a Graco Bulldog pump system, while the stripe coat was applied on the edges using 3-inch (7.6 cm) Wooster brushes and 4-inch (10.2 cm) Bestt Liebco rollers. All coats of the 9100 epoxy went down at 5–8 mils (127.0–203.2 microns) dry film thickness (DFT).

After those three coats cured, Rust-Oleum’s 9800 System DTM Urethane Mastic was spray applied as the finish coat at 3–5 mils (76.2–127.0 microns) DFT. In all, the painting portion concluded in about two weeks.

Weather Proof

Though the Howell & Howell crew wrapped up most of the project in approximately a month, it took several more months before their work could be unveiled.

Badge — CoatingsPro Winner 2018 Badge

“We couldn’t put the logo on until it warmed,” Dudukovich said “The wrap had to maintain at least 50 °F [10.0 °C]. It has an adhesive on the back. They heat it, and it shrinks around all the rivet heads, all the welds and seams, and it just shrinks up real tight against everything.”

The crew also had to keep its containment device on.

“The president of Brown-Forman wanted it to be like a big flagship,” Dudukovich said. “He wanted everybody in the world to see that there’s something big going on behind this tarp, and everything had to stay hidden from the public wanting to see it. So we kept the scaffolding and the containment on through the winter, and we had to repair any holes as they appeared. Then after the winter, we had to come back and clean everything and get it ready for the wrap.”

Containment — Old Forester Containment in Louiseville, KY

“They loved it,” Dudukovich said of the client. “It’s a big deal. They closed off all the streets around the area. All the employees watched the unveiling, and the local news brought their cameras. There’s a big countdown, and we cut the ropes. As it fell down, our guys were on the back side and hidden from the public, and they pulled the ropes around the back. We’ve done it the last four times, and that’s a big reason Brown likes to have us there — we’ve never screwed up the unveiling! It’s been perfect every single time.” Even though the job came with a twist, the project was completed two weeks ahead of schedule and under the original budget price. Cheers to this coatings crew!

Weeks before the Kentucky Derby that spring, the wrap was installed. “It’s done right before the Derby because a lot of big dignitaries come in,” Dudukovich said. Per usual, the coatings crew not only succeeded with application, but also with entertainment.

Editor’s Note: Howell & Howell won 1st place in the Industrial Steel category for CoatingsPro’s 2018 Contractor Awards Program for this project. Submit your project for the 2019 Contractor Awards Program here.