David Wood, left, and his son, David II, at the Wiggly Bridge Distillery in March. The Woods are applying to the town planning board to expand their business, but neighbors argue they first need to mitigate the growing presence of “whiskey fungus” in the area. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A distillery in York is the likely source of a fungus found on nearby buildings, according to a new study required by the town board that soon will decide if the business can expand its footprint.

The presence of baudoinia compniacensis – known colloquially as “whiskey fungus” because it feeds on alcohol vapors – has upset residents near Wiggly Bridge Distillery who argue that the fungus amounts to a code violation that should prompt the planning board to deny the application.

Whiskey fungus, a byproduct of the whiskey-making process, clings to surfaces and creates a black film, which can be removed by power washing. Near large distilleries, it can be found in such heavy concentrations that it creates a soot-like crust. Researches have so far not found any health risks.

The distillery owners said the fungus has been sensationalized by their opponents, and they have pointed to examples of other black stains around town to show they are being unfairly singled out. They believe the town should approve their proposal for a 1,685-square-foot addition to their main building and to construct two buildings, totaling 5,662 square feet, for aging whiskey on an adjacent lot.

The York Planning Board will consider the Wiggly Bridge application Thursday night to decide if the distillery conforms to a local ordinance that prohibits any “emission of dust, dirt, fly ash, fumes, vapors or gases which could damage human health, animals, vegetation, or property, or which could soil or stain persons or property, at any point beyond the lot line of the commercial or industrial establishment.”

From left, Dave Razzaboni, Marilyn Zotos, Beth Downs, Ken McAuliffe and Adam Flaherty stand in their neighborhood near the Wiggly Bridge Distillery on Tuesday. They are part of a group of neighbors who are concerned about the presence of whiskey fungus, which testing shows is likely coming from the distillery. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“They’re already polluting in violation of town ordinances. The concern is it will ruin our homes and our home values,” said Beth Downs, who moved to the neighborhood near the distillery three years ago.


The town code enforcement office has not issued any violations at Wiggly Bridge.

David Woods started the distillery with his son, David Woods II, in 2013 near Short Sands Beach and later expanded to a former hardware store on Route 1. Their intention, Woods said, was to create a legacy business that could be passed down to younger generations of the family.

Last year, Wiggly Bridge applied for permission to construct the additional buildings for aging the whiskey, called rickhouses, on a vacant field next to the distillery, about 25 yards from the property line and within 200 yards of some homes. The distillery itself is about 150 yards from the nearest houses.

“I do have some neighbors that surround my industrial property that from the very first meeting have come out to say they didn’t want to see anything built on my property,” Woods said. “We have been living the life of a thousand cuts. Hopefully this is the last cut.”

The siding of a real estate office building in March next door to the Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York was confirmed to have a fungus on its exterior known as whiskey fungus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


The planning board has considered several rounds of testing to determine if the fungus is really there. An initial test was inconclusive and another sample neighbors collected confirmed a “heavy” presence of the fungus. The latest round of tests performed by the University of Maine at Machias showed the distillery is likely producing the fungus.


Whiskey fungus thrives off the ethanol lost during the distillation process, also known as “the angel’s share.” When the ethanol combines with moisture in the air, it creates the fungus, which looks similar to black mold. Like other fungi, it attaches to surfaces like buildings, trees, cars and outdoor furniture.

It has been known for centuries to thrive around distilleries and bakeries. In Kentucky and Tennessee, where major distillers age millions of barrels of liquor at a time, the fungus has created an unsightly crust and prompted lawsuits. In one highly publicized dispute between Jack Daniels and neighbors upset about a thick layer of whiskey fungus coating the area, a judge temporarily halted the company’s plans to build more barrelhouses.

Tora Johnson of the University of Maine at Machias said in her report that 100 samples were taken within a one-mile radius of the distillery. The samples showed a “very high degree” of clustering with a less than 1% chance that the clustered pattern is from a random source.

Johnson’s analysis also showed a significant cluster of whiskey fungus spores and mycelia centered on the distillery and determined it is “highly likely” that the distillery is the source of the cluster. The analysis also showed that it is impossible to determine if the distillery is the source of a cluster found southeast of the area immediately around the business.

Beth Downs on Tuesday outside her home in York, where she and her husband just put in a new fence and pool. Like their neighbors, they are concerned about the presence of whiskey fungus, which testing shows is likely coming from the Wiggly Bridge Distillery. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Adam Flaherty, who lives nearby, said he and other residents are concerned about whiskey fungus because it could damage property and the possible health effects are still unclear. He believes the existing problem with whiskey fungus will become more significant with the proposed expansion.


Neighborhood residents recently sent out a flyer to others in the area with information about the spread of the fungus and the upcoming meeting. Flaherty and Downs expect many residents to attend Thursday’s meeting to share their concerns with the planning board.

“There’s a lot that’s unknown about potential health risks. It can do a lot of damage to vegetation, it can kill trees,” Flaherty said. “Anyone in the line of fire has a right to know about it.”

Downs said she would like the town to require the distillery to install a filtration system to stop the ethanol released by the whiskey, similar to the systems required at distilleries in California.

Wooden barrels of alcohol are stacked on structures called ricks in the barrelhouse at the Wiggly Bridge Distillery in March. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“None of us want (Woods) to go out of business. We want him to be able to make his whiskey and make his profit, but we believe it’s his job to mitigate the pollution that he’s emitting,” she said. “I don’t believe they should approve the application to expand until he agrees to do something to mitigate the emission of these whiskey fungus fumes.”

Woods said he is looking forward to the meeting because he’d “like a chance to have our side heard on this.” He said the new report shows the fungus is prevalent throughout town, not just near his distillery. The fungus on the building near his distillery washes off easily with a garden hose and is not damaging property, he said.

Woods said he has made adjustments to his expansion plans, including moving the proposed location of a building after a neighbor said she didn’t want to be able to see the peak of it from her kitchen window.

“I have done everything in my power to be a good neighbor and understand where people are coming from,” he said.

If the board rejects his application, Woods said he will take the town to court to challenge the decision.

“We will prevail one way or another. I believe in property rights and I’m trying to exercise my property rights on a piece of property I’ve owned since 1983 and that is zoned industrial,” he said. “For the first time, I want to put some buildings on it.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story