March 29, 2023

An American town plagued by a fungus that “feeds” on Jack Daniel’s

The New York Times — The ethanol-fueled mushroom known as the whiskey mushroom has been popping up in distilleries and bakeries for centuries. It has drawn complaints from residents who live near bourbon distilleries, Canadian whiskey producers, and Caribbean rum makers. Now the case is teasing the residents of Lincoln County, Tennessee and its famous distilleries Jack Danielswhich was founded in 1866 in neighboring Moore County.

For months now, some residents have been complaining about dark dandruff covering homes, cars, road signs, bird feeders, outdoor furniture, and trees. According to them, the fungus has spread uncontrollably, fueled by alcohol vapor emanating from the oak barrels used to age Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

A company spokesperson said the Jack Daniel’s distillery built six warehouses known as “Keg House” to aged its whiskey in rural Lincoln County, home to about 35,000 people, and is building a seventh shed on a property with space to house another one. The distillery asked the county to redefine the zoning of the second property so that it could build six more units.

A distillery representative, Donna Willis, told county officials in November that 14 Barrels would generate $1 million annually in property taxes for the county, which has approved about $15 million for the county’s public spending fund for fiscal year 2022.

But not all residents are happy with the expansion. Christy Long, who owns a 20th-century mansion in the area that she rents for weddings and other events, sued the county in January, arguing that units near the property lacked permits.

A tree in Lincoln County covered in Jack Daniel’s mushrooms filming: Patrick Long/The New York Times

A judge ruled last week that a unit currently under construction did not obtain the proper permits to build and that the building permit must be revoked in order for the distillery to obtain the necessary permits.

It continues after the announcement

Long’s attorney, Jason Holman, said he plans to ask the judge to expand the order to prevent the Jack Daniel’s distillery from using other units near the 372-square-meter mansion, known as the Manor in Shaigu.

Whiskey fungus has already infested their property, said Long and her husband, Patrick Long, blackening the roof and exterior walls, infesting the rock garden and iron gate, and staining the branches of magnolia trees. And they said that mushrooms nearby darken road signs.

The Longs said they use a pressure washer to disinfect their home quarterly with bleach, but the fungus always comes back. “If you run your finger through a tree branch, they stick to the end,” said Patrick Long. “It’s disgusting.”

Christy Long said her Lincoln County mansion would “turn black as coal” if Jack Daniel’s distillery didn’t install air filters in the units – one of which is located about 800 feet from her property. “It looks like the mushrooms took steroids.”

Jack Daniel’s “mushroom” covered in Lincoln County filming: Ben Sklar/The New York Times

An attorney representing Lincoln County declined to comment, saying it is an ongoing process.

The company “complies with local, state and federal regulations regarding barrel design, construction and permits,” said Melvin Keibler, general manager of Jack Daniel’s Distillery. “We are committed to protecting the environment and the safety and health of our employees and neighbors.”

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At the county meeting in November, Willis, general manager of the company’s technical services, barrel maintenance and distribution, said studies have shown the fungus is not a health hazard and does not damage property. “Could it be a nuisance?” Willis said. “Yes, of course. An inconvenience that can be solved by cleaning.”

She said the Jack Daniel’s house, however, would not agree to wash houses because he could be liable for any damage. Willis claimed that air filters could alter the taste of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.