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Harmless but Stubborn: Understanding the Nature of Whiskey Fungus

2023

In Mulberry, Tennessee, a picturesque wedding venue with a beautiful white mansion, manicured landscaping, and a sprawling green lawn is battling a peculiar and pesky problem — whiskey fungus. This mysterious mold, named for its appetite for ethanol, has become a nuisance for property owners like Patrick Long, whose community attributes the fungus's spread to the recent boom in whiskey consumption.

The fungus feeds on the ethanol that evaporates into the air from aging whiskey barrels stored in warehouses nearby. Jack Daniel's, one of the top-selling whiskey brands in the U.S., has at least 90 warehouses in the region. As the whiskey matures, ethanol emissions increase, creating an ideal environment for the whiskey fungus to thrive.

Whiskey fungus might seem harmless at first glance, appearing soft and powdery, but its microscopic superglue-like adhesion makes it challenging to remove. It clings to surfaces such as roofs, windows, and even stainless steel, causing havoc for property owners who constantly have to power wash to keep the fungus at bay. Unfortunately, the effects of the cleanings are only temporary, as the fungus tends to return within a few months.

Despite its tenacious grip, whiskey fungus is not known to harm humans, as its spores are not airborne. University of Toronto mycologist James Scott, who named the fungus Baudoinia compniacensis, pointed out the limited research on the topic. Whiskey fungus remains an understudied phenomenon, and any new information about it is considered valuable.

The exact means of whiskey fungus propagation remain unclear, but scientists have observed snails leaving tiny trails in fungus-prone areas. Snails seem to have a fondness for this particular fungus and may contribute to its spread.

While whiskey fungus can be found worldwide, the black crusty appearance is predominantly associated with distilleries and bakeries. To address the issue, Jack Daniel's could potentially reduce its ethanol emissions, but implementing air-filtration systems would come at a significant cost, which the company seems hesitant to undertake.

For Patrick Long and his wedding venue business, the fungus has caused considerable damage. It coats everything in its vicinity, affecting the lush greenery that is essential for a picture-perfect backdrop during weddings. Unlike structures that can be power washed, the plants and trees face a more challenging situation, leaving property owners with few options to combat the relentless whiskey fungus.

As the demand for whiskey continues to grow, the issue of whiskey fungus poses a unique challenge for distilleries like Jack Daniel's and communities like Mulberry, Tennessee, where property owners are left grappling with the consequences of this enigmatic mold.

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