Creeping fungus fed by Jack Daniel’s alarms a Tennessee town


Long’s lawyer, Jason Holleman, said he planned to ask the judge to broaden the order to stop Jack Daniel’s from using other barrelhouses near Long’s 370 square metre mansion, known as the Manor at ShaeJo.

Long and her husband, Patrick Long, said whiskey fungus had already inundated the property, darkening the copper roof and exterior walls, creeping over the rock garden and metal gate, and encrusting the branches of magnolia trees. Nearby, it blackens metal road signs, they said.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.Credit:AP

The Longs said they use a high-pressure hose to wash the property every three months with Clorox bleach and water, but the fungus always returns.

“If you take your fingernail and run your fingernail down our tree branch, it will just coat the tip of your finger,” Patrick Long said. “It’s just disgusting.”

Christi Long said her corner of Lincoln County “is going to be black as coal” unless Jack Daniel’s installs air filters in the barrelhouses, one of which sits about 230 metres from her property.

“This fungus now is on steroids,” she said.

Jack Daniel’s says installing air filters in barrelhouses, such as this one in Lynchburg, Tennessee, would harm the drink’s flavour.

Jack Daniel’s says installing air filters in barrelhouses, such as this one in Lynchburg, Tennessee, would harm the drink’s flavour.Credit:AP

A lawyer who represents Lincoln County declined to comment, citing the continuing litigation.

Melvin Keebler, general manager of the Jack Daniel Distillery, said in a statement that the company “complies with all local, state, and federal regulations regarding the design, construction, and permitting of our barrelhouses”.

“We are committed to protecting the environment and the safety and health of our employees and neighbors,” Keebler said.

At a county commission meeting in November, Willis, director of technical services, maintenance and barrel distribution at Jack Daniel’s, said studies have shown that the fungus is not hazardous to human health and does not damage property.

“Could it be a nuisance?” Willis said. “Yeah, sure. And it can easily be remedied by having it washed off.”

Whiskey fungus on tree branches in Lincoln County, Tennessee, in a photo provided by Patrick Long.

Whiskey fungus on tree branches in Lincoln County, Tennessee, in a photo provided by Patrick Long.Credit:The New York Times

She said the company would not agree, however, to power-wash homes, saying Jack Daniel’s could be held liable for any damage.

Willis also said air filters could hurt the flavour that Jack Daniel’s whiskey acquires during the ageing process. Distillers refer poetically to the liquor that evaporates during that process as “the angel’s share”.

The fungus that thrives off the lost alcohol has been noted at least since the 1870s, when Antonin Baudoin, director of the French Distillers’ Association, observed a “plague of soot” blackening the walls of distilleries in Cognac, France.

James A. Scott, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto who has studied the fungus since 2001 — and helped name its genus, Baudoinia, in honour of Baudoin — said he was not aware of any research specifically looking at the health effects of exposure to the fungus.

But the fungus can destroy property and can cling to almost any surface, he said. A puff of alcohol, Scott said, makes it remarkably resistant to temperature changes, allowing it to withstand hot summers in Tennessee.

“The fungus is pretty destructive, and the only way to stop it is to turn off its alcohol supply,” Scott wrote in an email. “It wrecks patio furniture, house siding, almost any outdoor surface. I’ve seen trees choked to death by it. It is a small mercy that it does not also appear to have a negative impact on human health.”

Tracy Ferry said she and her husband, Warren Ferry, who bought a home in Lincoln County three years ago, were hoping that Jack Daniel’s would install air filters.

Tracy Ferry said that since Jack Daniel’s built a barrelhouse next door in December, whiskey fungus had been accumulating on the roof of her home and car and on trees on her property. She said she had scrubbed the paint off wooden patio furniture while trying to remove the dark growth.

“I could try and sell, but what am I going to get?” Ferry said. “Who’s going to want to live here?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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