At least it makes the angels happy.
Ethanol vapour released through porous whiskey barrels during the ageing of bourbon might bring a smile in the heavens – the fumes are known as the “angel’s share” – but it can mean misery for local mortals. A strain of black whiskey fungus feeds on the alcoholic gasses, coating neighborhoods around distilleries with a stubborn mouldy crust.
The spread of the fungus has become such a problem in Lincoln county, Tennessee, that a local court has halted construction of a new barrel warehouse for the world’s biggest selling brand of American whiskey: Jack Daniel’s.
The move came after the owner of an events venue next to six operating warehouses sued the local zoning office, saying the fungus was out of control and damaging her business.
The fungus, Baudoinia compniacensis, is a familiar pest in the vicinity of barrelhouses which rely on wooden casks. Up to 2% of the volume of the alcohol can evaporate through the barrels each year as the drink matures, sending vapour into the air and encouraging the fungus.
Lawsuits have been brought by residents in several countries complaining that the black mould smothers walls, outdoor furniture, cars, trees and road signs and has adversely impacted their lives and harmed property values.
In the UK, a couple in Bonnybridge, Falkirk sued the drinks giant Diageo for £40,000 in 2019.
In Tennessee, the Lincoln county complaint was raised by Christi Long, owner of a wedding and party venue who said the property was covered in hard-to-remove fungus. She demanded an air ventilation system to block ethanal vapour seeping from the Jack Daniel’s plant.
Long told Insider she and her husband, Patrick, had to spend about $10,000 annually, power-washing their house four times a year with bleach.
Long’s lawyer, Jason Holleman, said the romance surrounding bourbon – the country music star Chris Stapleton sings in his blockbuster song, “You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey” – belies the real experiences of local people.
“In middle Tennessee and central Kentucky, if you go on a distillery tour, they proudly reference the angel’s share. But the angel’s share results in the devil’s fungus,” Holleman told the Lexington Herald Leader.
The chancellor of Lincoln county, JB Cox, has issued a court order temporarily stopping the building of the latest Jack Daniel’s barrelhouse. According to reports, the company is planning the construction of 14 more warehouses on the site – an indication of the rapid growth of the brand.
Brown-Forman, the Louisville-based firm which owns Jack Daniel’s, has so far managed to avoid direct involvement in the legal action.
But Holleman said he expects his client to extend her action by pressing for the six functioning barrelhouses to halt production, a move that would inevitably ensnare the parent company.
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