Whiskey fungus — sometimes called distillery fungus, rum fungus or warehouse-staining fungus — is a black fungus with the scientific name Baudoinia compniacensis. Though the fungus is literally black in color, it is not the same as black mold, Stachybotrys, which can cause significant health issues and infrastructure damage.–Source
Long story short, Alcohol storage of predominantly whiskey has lead to off gassing of ethanol resulting in a hotbed for another fungi to infect surrounding communities.
What is clear, is that surrounding communities have noticed more and more mold (a type of fungi) growing on things resulting in them having to frequently clean their houses and yards. This fungus also kills trees and shrubs and, like most fungus, decomposes things.
For instance, Lincoln County, Tennesse had a County Judge issue a halt order on building new Whiskey Barrel Warehouses in light of evidence to suggest that these barrel warehouses and the frequency of mold infecting the local population appearing to have a positive correlation. It seems the residents see more mold as more Barrel Houses are put up, suggesting that there may be a link.
One theory suggests that the barrels of whiskey are releasing ethanol as a byproduct of storage (called the “angel’s share”), and that ethanol is either providing a better ideal environment or providing some sort of medium of transport allowing fungus to grow on things. Ethanol can kill the majority of known fungi, but it can also feed other fungi– specifically because Whiskey Fungus is identified as Baudoinia Compniacensis that eats ethanol, this is a likely theory.
Another instance, In 2006, residents living near a distillery in Shively, Kentucky voice concerns about black soot accumulating on their homes and damaging trees.
Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District (APCD) has received complaints concerning a black, sooty substance that is accumulating on residential properties near whiskey aging warehouses. The complainants have stated that not only is the black soot a nuisance, but it also causes cosmetic damage to property. The complainants have made repeated attempts to remove the black soot from their properties by pressure washing and painting. Unfortunately, this has not corrected or repaired the damage. Other homeowners have removed trees from their property due to the build-up and damage caused by the sooty substance.–source
APCD has also received complaints concerning objectionable odors detected in neighborhoods near whiskey aging warehouses.
The odor complaints describe a smell similar to stale alcohol, vinegar, yeast, spice, wood, and baked goods. Investigations
performed by APCD compliance officers have revealed an alcohol-type odor being emitted from the aging warehouse located in
or near the residential neighborhoods.
The APCD responded to each complaint and performed a detailed investigation into the identification and cause of the black,
sooty substance and odors. During the District’s investigation, compliance officers took photographs of the properties affected
(e.g. siding, lawn furniture, vegetation, vehicles, etc.), and collected surface samples from several complaint locations.
That same report also cited similar issues happening in Bonnybridge, Scotland; Dumbarton, Scotland; West Lothian, UK; Cognac, France; Ontario, Canada; Bardstown, Ky; and Loretto, Ky.
There are also reports with Whisky giant Diageo, as well.
So this issue is very prevalent globally with whiskey and similar alcohol barrel storage facilities.
The important thing is to investigate these claims and concerns, seeing as they adversely affect the health of plants and trees. The concerns are valid and have noticed a non-negligible impact to the environment. Any damage to trees or plants would adversely affect both insects and animals and other creatures connected via the ecosystem. Additionally, the spores of fungi become airborne and may lead to an increase in respiratory infections and result in more hospitalizations or impact to quality of life. -And, if you have a garden or are trying to grow vegetables or petunias, the excess mold would definitely challenge the greenest of thumbs.
If the ethanol byproduct and off gassing from whisky barrels are indeed the problem as the theory suggests, then here are a few solutions;
The ideal solution is to create a safe level of control and containment for the products that release ethanol with layers of containment. In the biomedical field, when cultivating bacteria or fungi there is a lot of control and layers of control following several standards to ensure that there isn’t an inadvertent release of biomedical pathogens to the environment. Additionally, this would add an extra layer to prevent the tampering of the product while in storage.
Another solution is that other whisky distributors are collecting the off gassed ethanol and burning it at their storage facilities. This seems to be the industry standard for whisky companies and is seen in facilities based in California.
It would also be possible to collect and harvest the off gassed ethanol and sell it or use it as a byproduct.
There was an invention that may reduce the angel’s share, it is called a ‘scotch bonnet’, but that comes with it’s own logistical storage limitations. Essentially a bonnet that is placed on the barrels to prevent further ethanol release somehow. This method also increases yields as it reduces your whisky from, well, evaporating, so it may be a better return on investment depending on it’s reusability or price point.
There are many solutions, and each one has their own nuances that may result in other side effects not yet known.
It is also to note;
It’s not just whiskey that results in this fungi issue; Bakeries that deal with yeast could have a similar effect to the local surrounding environment and communities. The yeast and fermentation from ‘proofing’ or letting the bread rise also releases some ethanol, and in large bakeries such as baking factories, this could effect nearby communities in a similar manner as that of whiskey storage off gassing.
Of course, everything above is constructed on this theory of ethanol off gassing based on observations throughout several places. It’s just something to note in case a better explanation or theory comes out.
Here is a great link to Buckeye Yard & Garden online that goes into detail about the Whiskey Fungus while also providing some useful pictures that can help to identify this black fungi.
Comment down below if you have anything else to add.
Keep an eye out for that sooty black fungi that can grow on bushes, trees, and even bricks and houses. Chances are, there may be some sort of chemical facility near you that could be affecting emissions and impacting air quality thus possibly affecting your quality of air and your quality of life.