Whiskey, Rum, and Cognac-loving Fungi
In the early 2000’s, James Scott was called in by the Hiram Walker Distillery to investigate what the apparent fungal problem was that was causing all the houses and other structures in a 500m to 1 km radius around the whiskey storage warehouses to turn black. At first, he thought the dark fungus involved might be an unknown organism, but then he discovered it had been known from Cognac, France, in the 1880s, and then essentially forgotten. Later investigations, sometimes propelled by semi-secretive mass homeowner lawsuits in the USA and the UK, showed that the ‘whiskey fungus’ was to be found worldwide – but only where some artificial process was releasing tons of ethanol into the air. It had, and has, no known natural habitat – which is impossible, but so it stands at the moment. A new genus, Baudoinia, was described, named after the early researcher who described it in Cognac. Dr. Summerbell was sent to Cognac to collect a new specimen to represent the ‘type’ of the name. Some snaffling of blackened, dead bush twigs around a cognac warehouse hit paydirt. More recent investigations have found him sampling the stone on the Kentucky state capitol and scraping black fungus off over 100 baking-hot corrugated tin roofs near the Captain Morgan rum warehouse in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, taking a two-day break for Hurricane Irma to pass through. Somehow alcohol never fails to be linked to drama, even when fungi are involved.