Jack Daniel's Faces Legal Backlash Over Pervasive Whiskey Fungus

Jack Daniel's has been making whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee, for over 150 years. When you've been around that long, there are probably bound to be conflicts, especially when alcohol is involved. For instance, in 2018, Lynchburg attempted to impose a tax on every barrel of booze Jack Daniel's produced. Fortunately for the popular whiskey brand, the state government intervened with an exemption that potentially saved Jack Daniel's $3 million a year. However, more recently, people have been trying to save themselves from the financial and physical burdens they believe the whiskey maker has caused.

Some of Jack Daniel's Lincoln, Tennessee, neighbors are angry, and not about taxes. According to the BBC, residents are upset about a whiskey fungus that is blanketing everything in blackness. One person in the county – where Jack Daniel's has recently built more barrel aging facilities, per Insider – claims the vapor is coming from these barrelhouses and has caused financial duress due to excessive cleaning costs. Several more lawsuits have been filed as calls mount for Jack Daniel's to acquire the correct permits, and install proper air filtration to prevent the growth. Cleaning costs aren't the only thing local residents are worried about, and the backlash over the whiskey fungus has already forced Jack Daniel's to suspend construction on another project.

What is whiskey fungus, and why is it a problem?

In 2018, the year Jack Daniel's successfully beat back the proposed barrel tax, the distillery built half a dozen new barrelhouses in Lincoln County, Tennessee, to age its whiskey, with the expectation of adding 14 more, according to Insider. Those plans appear to be on hold, the BBC reports, after a court-ordered stoppage was issued on the latest barrelhouse under construction due to improper permitting. The existing six barrelhouses may also face sanctions.

The problem is the invasive whiskey fungus (Baudoinia compniacensis). The boozily named organism has roots in Cognac France, where it was first noticed in the vicinity of distilleries during the late 19th century. The fungus thrives on the vapors that emanate from barreled whiskey as it ages. This evaporation process, known in the whiskey industry as the "angel's share," is allegedly causing the widespread presence of whiskey fungus in Lincoln County. It covers cars, houses, trees, and seemingly anything else in its path. One of the people suing Jack Daniel's, Patrick Long, shared serious health concerns with Insider about his wife's respiratory struggles and a neighbor who has cancer, according to Long.

Tennessee residents aren't the first to sue over the fungus. Suits have been filed in a number of counties, as well as in neighboring Kentucky, per Insider. Jack Daniel's, for its part, asserts that it is following all relevant legal guidelines.