Tenacious Whiskey Mold Cloaks Kentucky

By May Wilkerson 08/30/12

Five of the Commonwealth's distilleries are being sued over a fungus infestation caused by whiskey fermentation.

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No structure is immune to the mold. Photo via

Whiskey is the "liquid pride" of Kentucky, but distilleries across the state have given residents a hangover in the form of a sooty black fungus that spreads on the surface of houses and cars, the New York Times reports. For a long time, the mysterious, yeasty-smelling residue, which thrives in humidity and is difficult to remove, was thought to be pollution. It turns out it's Baudoinia—a newly-discovered fungus that germinates on ethanol, the colorless alcohol that evaporates during whiskey fermentation. The mold has found prime breeding ground in parts of the whiskey-makin' state, especially in areas surrounding aging warehouses—of which there are many—leaving many feeling miffed. “It’s literally taken the clear coat of paint off my car," says Frankfurt resident Kayleigh Count, who, like many Kentuckians, was raised by the bourbon industry. “All my family is retired from the distillery, so it’s not like I can be mad at the distillery," she says. "I just want them to use a modern approach, and keep the air clean."

She isn't the only one who's fed up with the ubiquitous fungus. Recently, many home and business-owners have filed class-action lawsuits in federal courts against five major distilleries, on charges of property damage and negligence. Louisville lawyer William F. McMurry, who is involved in the suit, says the distillers should simply “stop off-gasing ethanol,” adding: “This is not going to affect their bottom line and the flavor of whiskey.” But the companies deny responsibility for the mold, claiming it is "naturally occurring," rather than a result of fermentation. "The companies involved do not believe that they have caused any harm to the plaintiffs or their property," read a joint statement. Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, at this point, even the distilleries' best efforts may be no match for the tenacious mold. “We call them extremophiles, that grow in the extremes of life in our planet," says Dr. Scott, who discovered the whiskey fungus in 2011. "It’s not clear to me, if you were to remove the distillery or the aging warehouses entirely, if you could even get rid of it.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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