David Wood, whose family owns and operates the Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, stands outside a barrelhouse at the distillery on Thursday. Wood is looking to expand to add two more barrelhouses, where wooden barrels are stored as the alcohol ages, but the plans are opposed by neighbors because of concern over what is known as whiskey fungus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

At the Re/Max real estate office on U.S. Route 1 in York, the yellow siding is stained with a fine black film. It isn’t visible from a distance, and might be mistaken for the usual grime of late winter in Maine.

But a sample collected by nearby residents showed the film is a fungus, scientifically named baudoinia compniacensis. Colloquially, it’s called “whiskey fungus” because it feeds on alcohol vapors.

In Kentucky and Tennessee, where major distillers age millions of barrels of liquor at a time, the fungus has become an unsightly crust and the subject of lawsuits. They include a much-publicized dispute that last month led a judge to halt construction of a Jack Daniel’s warehouse. The case is pending.

In York, the presence of the fungus has stoked fears of a similar blight and jeopardized the expansion of a much smaller producer. Next door to Re/Max is Wiggly Bridge Distillery, which makes craft spirits including varieties of bourbon, white whiskey and rum. The distillery has about 1,000 barrels resting in a storage barn called a rickhouse. Last year, Wiggly Bridge applied to build two more rickhouses and met resistance from some neighbors.

The town has fielded dozens of public comments about the fungus and recently ordered another round of testing.

“(The testing) would do a lot to alleviate the concerns or give evidence that it is a real showstopper,” said Wayne Boardman, chairman of the York Planning Board, at a Feb. 23 meeting.


Siding on a real estate office building next door to Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York is coated with a black film that’s been confirmed as whiskey fungus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

One expert said the small number of barrels at Wiggly Bridge – even after the expansion – makes it unlikely that the fungus would grow outside the immediate area of the distillery. But residents say the fungus already has, and that the new rickhouses would be so close to their homes that the black stains would show up and reduce property values. The neighbors say they do not want to hurt a local business, but the distillery should expand somewhere else.

“As someone who is not interested in losing home value or needing to increase the cost of upkeep, I just think that there’s better places to have industrial storage than in a residential neighborhood,” said Jenna Cecot, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than four years.

The distillery owners aren’t convinced that their operation is the sole cause of the black growth. They say their opponents are unfairly using the fungus to prevent any construction on the field between the distillery and their neighborhood.

“It had nothing to do with the fungus (at the beginning),” said David Woods, who co-founded the business with his son David Woods II. “It had everything to do with, no one wanted to see any building on that property.”

The issue is new to Maine distilleries, which make a miniscule fraction of the liquor produced by the big labels. But a legal battle over the fungus could be brewing here too, as both sides have vowed to appeal whatever the York Planning Board decides.

Maine has 27 licensed craft distilleries, stretching from Wiggly Bridge in York to Mossy Ledge Spirits in Etna. Many are located in rural or industrial zones, away from residential areas.


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

“It sounds like it’ll be something we’ll be hearing more and more about,” said Ned Wight, president of the Maine Distillers Guild and owner of New England Distilling in Portland. “I don’t think it’s something that has really hit the radar locally.”


In 1872, Antonin Baudoin noticed a dark growth on the walls around brandy distilleries in Cognac, France. More than 125 years later, a scientist named James Scott linked a fungus at Canadian whiskey barrelhouses to the same growth in Cognac and formally named the organism after Baudoin. Scott, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, has now been studying the fungus for more than 15 years.

“It grows in environments where alcohol vapors are emitted at an industrial scale,” said Scott.

That means the fungus can be found at commercial bakeries, fuel blending facilities, even the roof of a shoe factory from which Scott recently received samples – and, of course, distilleries. In the industry, the alcohol that evaporates from aging barrels is called “the angels’ share.” Scott said that alcohol feeds the fungus, makes it more resilient to temperature changes and stimulates its spores to germinate.

Scott said the fungus doesn’t seem to linger in the air, and it is unclear how the organism gets from place to place. But baudoinia clings to the surfaces of houses, cars, patio furniture, trees, even metal street signs. There are no known health effects, although Scott said research has not looked specifically at that question.


This building right next door to the Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, seen at right, has been confirmed to have a fungus on its exterior known as whiskey fungus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Everything in its path, it seems to be able to colonize,” said Scott. “And it grows over the surfaces and its filaments anchor into them, and it’s really difficult to get off. When you clean the thing off, it tends to have the effect of reducing the lifetime of the surfaces themselves.”

He said the amount of fungus correlates to the size of the distillery and the amount of aging spirits. Scott said baudoinia can be found at least 100 or 200 yards from distilleries with 20,000 to 30,000 barrels in storage. For sites with more than 1 million barrels, the radius can be 2 or 3 miles.

“Those kinds of things that are 5,000 or 10,000 barrels, they don’t seem to be a problem,” said Scott. “If they have any growth, they would be limited to the immediate adjacent growth.”

Scott did not respond to an email Friday asking about the potential radius of whiskey fungus from the Wiggly Bridge Distillery.


Woods and his son founded Wiggly Bridge Distillery in 2013. The idea started as a joke but quickly became a reality. (“Hobby to obsession to profession,” they say.) Woods said he wanted to create “a legacy business” where his grandchildren would work someday.


Father and son started their operation near Short Sands Beach in York and later expanded to a former hardware store on Route 1. Woods owns multiple businesses in town, including a car wash just down the street. He has also owned the field next to the distillery for years. At different points, it had been a driving range and a par-3 golf course.

David Woods, left, and his son David Woods II own and operate Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, located in the barn behind them. They say they need to add two barrelhouses at the distillery or it will have to halt production. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In 2017, the Woods family built the existing rickhouse with a capacity of 1,176 barrels. Now, Wiggly Bridge is on the verge of stopping production because the business is running out of room for its barrels. The company applied to the Planning Board to build the two additional rickhouses on the vacant field. The expansion would give Wiggly Bridge a total capacity of 3,864 barrels.

“We’re going to have to shut down production in about another month until we have a place where we can put barrels,” said Woods.

Many of the residential streets behind the distillery are named for birds (Pheasant Court, Woodcock Drive, Mallard Drive) and seem removed from the bustle of Route 1. But the outermost lots abut commercial properties. Nearby businesses, including the distillery, are visible from some homes. The town sent required notices about the Wiggly Bridge application to abutters, and word traveled quickly through the neighborhood. Google searches quickly turned the neighbors on to the whiskey fungus, and they contacted Scott to learn more about his research.

Even though Scott said craft operations do not cause the same problems as large distilleries, the detection of whiskey fungus on the Re/Max building created concern.

The town’s GIS map shows the real estate office is less than 20 yards from the distillery and 45 yards from the existing rickhouse. The proposed rickhouses would be 25 yards from the nearest property lines and within 200 yards of some homes. The distillery itself is about 150 yards away from the nearest houses. That distance is too close for comfort, neighbors said.


Adam Flaherty and his family have lived in the neighborhood for seven years. He said he is concerned about the lack of research on the health effects of exposure to the fungus, and he feels that adding the rickhouses is a risk the town should not allow.

“We understand that this is a craft distillery and the entire town of York won’t be coated in the sticky black fungus like they see around Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee or Kentucky,” said Flaherty. “But for those of us in close proximity, it’s our homes, businesses and private property. And where it’s already a problem with the existing operation, it will only become more significant with the proposed expansion.”

Several nearby business owners declined to talk about the fungus. Robert Coles is one of the owners of the Re/Max agency and the building that houses it. He described the distillery as a good neighbor and said he supports the expansion.

“I’m not going to tell people how to feel about it, but it’s not an issue for me, and I’m an immediate abutter,” he said. “I’m honestly not concerned about it.”


The York Planning Board previously requested testing to determine the presence of baudoinia, and it came back inconclusive. But the neighbors argued that the methodology could not have detected the fungus. They got permission from the owners of the Re/Max building to collect a sample and paid $500 for a test through a different lab that confirmed “heavy” presence of the fungus. (They didn’t have permission to test the distillery or the existing rickhouse.)


One ordinance in York 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.”

The neighbors have argued that the confirmed presence of the fungus on the neighboring Re/Max building is a code violation that should be addressed and should prompt the Planning Board to deny the application.

“I do want their business to succeed,” said Cecot. “I think they have a nice product. I think it’s good to have these businesses in the community. It’s just the expansion possibly causing issues with our land. I hope the applicant would see what our concerns are and we’re not trying to stop him from using his land altogether. We just think this industrial use is inappropriate for what’s essentially our backyard.”

The distillery owners said the fungus has been sensationalized by their opponents, and they have pointed to examples of black stains around town to show they are being unfairly singled out – at gas stations, bottle collection facilities, the town’s water district, the building at the top of Mount Agamenticus.

“Why is this causing the show to stop when there’s dirtiness in this world?” said David Woods II. “We’re not doing anything different than what nature does.”

An expansion of Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, seen at the lower right in this photo, is opposed by neighbors over concerns about what is known as whiskey fungus. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Planning Board received more than 50 written comments before its last meeting on the application in February. They decided to order another round of tests across a wider variety of locations in town. Wiggly Bridge will be required to cover the cost. DeCarlo Brown, the town’s land use planner, said he is still seeking experts to determine the location of the samples and to then conduct the tests.


Woods II serves on the board but has recused himself from discussion of his application. There are other outstanding issues with the application as well, including a question about a wetland zone.

The elder Woods said he is going to seek independent tests of businesses around town because he believes it will show that there is no specific causation by his distillery. He said he would not abandon the project at this point.

“I will not quit this,” he said. “I am too heavily invested.”

Neighbors said they are fearful that the fungus is already growing on their homes, but they do not want to get them tested because they would have to disclose those results to future buyers. Some residents have considered moving if the distillery expansion is approved.

“I would probably try to sell my house and move away before they started construction,” said Fotios Zotos, who has lived in the neighborhood since the late ’90s. “It’s very unfortunate because we love the area.”

The Woods family said they also love the area and want to make a positive contribution to York.

“The neighbors are coming at us almost like we’re the big bad wolves, you know, we’re going to coat the town just like Jack Daniels,” said Amanda Woods, who’s married to David Woods II. “But I think they’re forgetting that we live in this town, we work in this town, our kids are here working with us. We would not want anything detrimental to happen to the community.”

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