Scottish townspeople take on drinks giant over black whisky fungus blighting their homes

In Cognac, the soot-like fungus that has crept up buildings near the town’s famous spirit warehouses for centuries is considered characterful. A thousand miles away amid the whisky sheds of North Ayrshire, the black mould is viewed less charitably.

The Scottish town of Beith has become the latest community to claim that a stubborn fungus colonising houses, cars and other external surfaces is linked to the £4 billion Scotch industry and whisky evaporating from the country’s maturation warehouses.

Such is the level of concern about the mould, known as Baudoinia, that residents have engaged an American lawyer fighting test cases both in Scotland and Kentucky to contemplate a damages claim against Chivas Brothers, the French-owned Scotch producer which operates a vast warehouse site in Beith, some 20 miles west of Glasgow.

Pernod-Ricard, the owner of Chivas Brothers, insists, along with other whisky producers and the industry body, that the fungus is part of a “complex microflora” which occurs throughout Britain and has no proven link to Scotch production.

But campaigners claim the mould, whose characteristic blackening effect can be seen on buildings across Beith including some of Chivas Brothers’ own maturation sheds, is the result of a troublesome mycological marriage that is only possible between Baudoinia spores and ethanol vapours which evaporate from whisky barrels as the spirit matures.

The loss of alcohol from Scotch casks is a natural phenomenon which concentrates the flavour of the whisky and leads to the disappearance of up to 20 per cent of the volume in a barrel of 10-year-old spirit. The airborne alcohol is lyrically known as “the Angels’ Share” but, according to some of Beith’s homeowners, it is the root of a diabolical blight on their properties.

Maurice Mcdonald, who is leading the “Stop Chivas Regal” campaign against plans to expand the number of warehouses in Beith, said: “The Scotch industry has a dirty little secret - when evaporated ethanol escapes into the environment it meets with these spores and produces the fungus equivalent of the Incredible Hulk.

“The whisky fungus is not something you can just wipe off. It embeds itself on walls, cars, phone boxes, everything. It’s very tough to remove.

“And yet the industry simply will not recognise that it is the cause of this issue and wants to expand further in this town, bringing even more of this mould.”

First identified by a Canadian scientist, James Scott, a decade ago, Baudoinia is named after the 19th-century French pharmacist who first noticed the mould blackening the walls around Cognac’s distilleries. Professor Scott established that the growth of the fungus was dramatically accelerated by exposure to ethanol, which also allowed it to flourish in an ultra-hardy form that is resistant to extremes of temperature, including the wild, icy winters of North Ayrshire.

William McMurry, an American lawyer based in Kentucky, who is leading a class action against three bourbon producers in his home state, is now considering adding Beith's homeowners to his list of potential litigants. He alleges that property values in American communities affected by Baudoinia have fallen by up to 30 per cent.

He is already involved in the first “whisky fungus” test case in Scotland being brought against drinks giant Diageo on behalf of homeowners in Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, who allege their properties have been blighted by Baudoinia. Diageo denies the claim and said it will “vigorously contest” the case.

Campaigners say the problem can be easily solved by the installation of technology, known as a thermal oxidiser, which extracts the ethanol from the air in the maturation sheds and costs about £180,000 per warehouse to be installed.

Mr McMurry said: “That sort of money is a drop in the ocean for the whisky industry but it has got its head in the sand. They do not want to be good corporate citizens until people affected by this require them to do so. There is a one-stop solution here which is to install the oxidisers, clean the affected properties and it won’t come back. Instead, we’re having to head to court.”

For Scotland’s whisky producers, the legal cases are simply unfounded and unfair. The industry says it has conducted independent - but unpublished - research, which shows the “environmental blackening” close to its sites is coincidental and not reliant on the Angels’ Share.

In a statement, Chivas Brothers, Scotland’s second largest distiller, which produces brands such as Chivas Regal and Ballantine’s, said: “Chivas Brothers is committed to maintaining the highest possible environmental standards. Naturally occurring microflora is not confined to areas where Scotch whisky is produced and can be found in environments across the UK. We will continue to monitor all research developments in this area.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
food + drinkClue: You'll either love them or you'll hate them
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project