by Bev Kindschy
Last fall we moved our daughter to Louisville, Kentucky to finish up her college training in Radiation Therapy. This move was exciting, since it presented many new learning opportunities including the culture of Kentucky. One of our first learning experiences was the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is a program of nine Kentucky distillers that promote the bourbon industry. Kentucky produces the majority of all bourbon made world-wide, because of the limestone water supply. Since our family is a fan of wine and beer tastings, we decided to expand our taste buds and start bourbon tastings/tours on the trail.
On a walking tour of the historic Jim Beam distillery, I couldn’t help but notice that the buildings were all black. As I looked more closely I noticed the trees were extremely black and looked like they had their bark blow-torched. I learned that it is because the trees and warehouses have been tainted by Baudoinia compniacensis, a unique whiskey fungus, found near distilleries. This particular type of black fungus is common near distilleries because it uses ethanol as a source of energy for growth. During the whiskey maturation process (expanding and contracting in and out of the barrels’ oak panels), at least 2% of whiskey escapes from the barrel as ethanol vapor. It is this airborne ethanol that stimulates fungal germination and provides some additional heat protective proteins to the organisms. Since ethanol is denser than air, when it meets the slightest bit of moisture (limestone water supply) you get whiskey fungus all over the place. At an eyeball distance it appears as a crusty coating. At a greater foot distance, it appears like ink staining.
One final point in case you plan to participate in a bourbon tasting, Makers Mark has the best bourbon balls at the end of their tour and you get to sample four types of bourbons!