An Entire Tennessee Town Is Covered in 'Whiskey Fungus'

“If you take your fingernail and run your fingernail down our tree branch, it will just coat the tip of your finger."

Residents of Lincoln County, a community of 35,000 in southern Tennessee, say they’ve had enough of the black mold quickly coating their homes, streets, and public spaces. And they’re ready to make Jack Daniel’s fix it. 

As Insider explains, the mold, known as baudoinia compniacensis, or by its nickname “whiskey fungus,” grows thanks to the ethanol vapor given off by whiskey distilleries, or in this case, the one by Jack Daniel’s located in town. In 2018, the liquor company built six barrel houses there and was going to construct 14 more before a recent lawsuit curtailed those plans.  

Christi Long, who operates a local events company at her more than 100-year-old mansion in the community, filed a lawsuit in January against the county, citing that the barrelhouses lack the proper permits for operation, The New York Times reports. And, Lincoln County Chancellor J.B. Cox agreed, ruling that Jack Daniel’s must cease construction until it obtains the necessary permits. 

Bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey

Diego Fiore / Shutterstock

However, that isn’t enough for Long, whose lawyer Jason Holleman told the paper he will be asking the judge to block Jack Daniel’s from using the other barrelhouses near his client's property as well. 

“This fungus now is on steroids,” Long told The Times, noting she and her husband have to power-wash their property every three months with harsh chemicals, including bleach, but the fungus simply returns. “If you take your fingernail and run your fingernail down our tree branch, it will just coat the tip of your finger … It’s just disgusting.”

Though Long and her husband don't want to block the company’s growth completely. Instead, they’d like to see Jack Daniel’s install proper ventilation systems to remove the ethanol and curb the growth of the fungus. 

“...[T]hey have requests for conditions they would like to have a public hearing on. All we asked for is that Jack Daniel’s follow the typical process for approval,” Holleman added. 

Long and others in her community aren’t alone in the fight, either. According to the Lexington Herald Leader, residents in three other communities — Henry, Franklin, and Anderson — have also fought plans by bourbon makers, claiming to have similar issues with the mold. 

Elizabeth Conway, a spokesperson for Brown-Forman spokeswoman, which owns the Jack Daniel’s brand, shared in a statement with the Herald Leader, “We respect the Chancellor’s ruling and look forward to working with Lincoln County on updated permits. The Jack Daniel Distillery will continue to comply with regulations and industry standards regarding the design, construction, and permitting of our barrelhouses in Lincoln Co.”

As for how this fungus spreads in the first place, Holleman explains it’s all due to the evaporated byproduct, popularly known as the “angels share.” 

"If you go on one of these distillery tours, they will tell you about the angels' share that goes into the atmosphere," Holleman told reporters. "And unfortunately, that also results in the devil's fungus."

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