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Ky. Residents Sue Distillers Over Whiskey Fungus

Thu, 05/31/2012 - 1:01pm
BRETT BARROUQUERE,Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A group of Louisville residents is suing three distillers claiming ethanol emissions produced by making booze has caused a black, soot-like growth known as whiskey fungus to bloom on cars and houses.

The residents claim that ethanol emissions by Diageo America's Supply, Brown-Forman, and Heaven Hill Distilleries are not necessary to make or store liquor at three separate facilities in the city. The group claims that the whiskey fungus clung to metal, vinyl, concrete and wood and has marred their property and lowered its value.

The residents filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville seeking class-action status and unspecified compensation for damage to property.

Heaven Hill spokesman Larry Kass, speaking for all three distilleries, said the companies are "sympathetic to the concerns" of the residents, but the blackening of the buildings and other structures is due to mold found throughout the environment, including areas not related to whiskey production.

"The companies involved do not believe that they have caused any harm to the plaintiffs or their property and we will vigorously contest these claims," Kass said.

Whiskey fungus — known scientifically as Baudoinia Compniacensis — is created by a chemical reaction involving ethanol emissions, which are produced by liquor distillers. Ethanol evaporates from the whiskey barrels during the aging process — an escape referred to by distillers as the Angel's Share of the whiskey.

Attorney William McMurry of Louisville, who filed the complaint, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that experts have verified that the fungus on his clients' homes can only be attributed to the distillery industry.

"We have got to stop thinking in terms of we don't know what's causing all the homes around whiskey distilleries to be black," he said.

McMurry and the plaintiffs said that the Angel's Share is bedeviling to them — and messy. "The black fungus is very visible on homes, fences and cars and is unsightly," McMurry wrote in the complaint.

To get rid of whiskey fungus, high-pressure washing or other extreme cleaning measures must be taken, McMurry said. The cleaning causes the homes and cars to wear out sooner, lowering the value of each, McMurry wrote.

The lawsuit isn't precise about how many homes or people would be covered by the lawsuit. Instead, the attorneys said, the radius of the affected area and number of homes and people impacted will be determined as the lawsuit plays out.

Diageo makes and sells 14 brands of alcohol, including Johnny Walker whiskey and Crown Royal. Heaven Hill Distilleries, based in Bardstown, makes Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey and Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, among its brands. Louisville-based Brown-Forman produces Early Times Kentucky Whiskey and Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey among its brands.

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