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Updated June 25, 2013 – Massive flooding along several rivers in Alberta have claimed at least three lives, caused millions of dollars in damage, and forced the shutdown of at least two whisky distilleries. Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta shut down after the distillery lost power Thursday afternoon, and the entire town remains under mandatory evacuation orders.
“The entire town’s underwater”, Highwood operations manager Jarrod Grant told WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie in a phone interview Monday. “We’re on the list to try and get into town, but we don’t know what’s happened at the distillery.” Grant remains hopeful that damage will be minimal, since the distillery is on higher ground about a kilometer (.6 miles) from the Highwood River. RCMP officers in High River told the Calgary Sun they expect the evacuation orders to remain in place for several days. Mounties are conducting a dangerous door-to-door search of homes and businesses in High River to encourage people who have defied the evacuation orders to leave.
Highwood produces Centennial, Century Reserve, White Owl, Potter’s, and Highwood Canadian whiskies, along with other spirits. It also supplies whisky to a number of independent bottlers, including Masterson’s and Canadian Rockies.
Flood waters are starting to recede in Calgary, about 23 miles north of High River. The Bow and Elbow Rivers flooded most of downtown Calgary last week, forcing a temporary shutdown at Alberta Distillers after police closed roads in the area around the distillery. The Beam Global-owned distillery’s main product is Alberta Premium Canadian Whisky, and Beam’s Paula Erickson told WhiskyCast in an email Sunday that all of the distillery’s employees are safe, and the impact on production and distilling is expected to be minimal.
In addition, both of Calgary’s leading whisky and spirits shops escaped damage from the flooding. Andrew Ferguson of the Kensington Wine Market told WhiskyCast via Twitter:
“We were lucky. This place is a disaster…billions in damage to the 4th largest city in Canada and the second most important financial/business center”
Chelsey Coulson of Willow Park Wines & Spirits reports via email that the Willow Park staff is also safe and the store was not damaged.
The Oldman River is receding in Lethbridge, about 130 miles south of Calgary. Lethbridge is home to the Black Velvet Distillery, and spokesman Chris Spearman reports via Twitter that his people are all safe.
This story will be updated as more details are available.