Seeking solutions

Vowing to rise from the ashes of the devastating fire Friday that destroyed his distillery, Alchemical Solutions owner Aaren Glover says he has several good leads on a temporary location and hopes to resurrect the plant on its present site on Benson Way in Ashland.

Damages from the explosion and fire will likely top $1 million, said Ashland Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman.

"The cause of the explosions and fire is undetermined," she said in a news release Wednesday. "It appears that the cause may be related to equipment used in the distilling process; however, further investigation by a forensic laboratory would be necessary to be more specific."

Glover disputes that assessment.

"I'm not a fire investigator, but I know my business and the fire was not caused by anything we did," he said while inventorying damaged equipment Wednesday. "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."

Private fire investigators hired by insurance companies are conducting their own investigations, Hickman said.

Glover said on the day of the fire that he suspected a natural gas leak could be the culprit.

Alchemical Solutions produces bulk pure-spirit alcohol for tinctures, perfumes and drinks, among other products.

Glover said he started building the business in 2001 and spent a year and a half on the "incredible chore of getting it all legal."

"The city put me through a lot," he said Wednesday. "I spent $60,000 to make everything explosion-proof and get a federal operating permit. The business almost went under during all that."

Earlier this week, Glover posted queries on Facebook and the Ashland Peeps group for a temporary space of at least 1,000 square feet with loading dock and good street access for storage, shipping and receiving. The space would not be used to manufacture alcohol, he said. He is searching in Ashland and Talent and checking out new leads now.

Glover earlier estimated the loss at $1.5 million to $2 million but has yet to hear on a settlement from insurance adjusters.

He said the Benson Way site is his first choice to rebuild, and that reconstruction of the now-condemned and buckled metal building would be done by the original builder, Jerry Toney.

Three of Glover's workforce of five have been laid off, he said. One, who had just moved from California to start work, was busy helping him inventory losses.

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. He escaped unscathed. Crews battled the blaze for three and a half hours.

Alchemical had attained new levels of success in recent months, Glover said. It was back-ordered on organic grape alcohol, a neutral spirit made of California wine and distilled to 95 percent purity (the rest is water) for use in hard alcoholic beverages, herbal tinctures, vanilla, stevia extract and other products.

"That was our target market," he said. "We're a boutique or craft distillery, making pharmaceutical-grade alcohol and meeting an increasing market for organic spirits. We're the only one in the country making organic grape alcohol."

Amid the blackened ruins were scattered corn kernels, which Alchemical grinds, cooks and ferments for their products, and a 5,000-gallon tank for organic wine, ready for distilling and redistilling. Glover is also starting the use of organic cane for alcohol production and is arranging for new suppliers.

Hickman said all tenants in the five-unit building suffered smoke damage, including Dagoba Organic Chocolates, which stored cacao and other supplies in the three units furthest from the blaze. The adjacent unit, an agricultural operation, will require some rebuilding, Glover said.

Glover earlier estimated the rebuilding of his factory would take six to eight months, and in the meanwhile he is focused on filling orders and hanging onto established customers.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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