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Black Fungus Revisited – Diageo in a Tight Spot?

by Oliver Klimek on May 18, 2011

A few weeks ago, news of the fungus-infested Clackmannanshire village of Tullibody swept both Scotland and the whisky scene. Diageo had denied any claims that the extraordinary display of fungus in the village was caused by their local warehouses.

An Amazing Discovery

Yesterday, renowned Wired magazine published an article on their website about James Scott, the man who correctly isolated Baudoinia Compniacensis and identified the fungus as a new genus. I recommend anyone interested in this topic to thoroughly read the article.

The most interesting aspect is the history of the identification of the fungus. James Scott was hired by Hiram Walker, the producers of Canadian Club whisky to investigate an explosive growth of black fungus around their warehouses in Lakeshore, Ontario. It was just like in Tullibody; homeowners complained about the fungus that was coating their houses and blamed the distillery. Hiram Walker had been pondering about this issue for more than a decade, even with the help of mycologists of the University of Windsor, but to no avail. And even:

“A team from the Scotch Whisky Association’s Research Institute had taken samples and concluded it was just a thick layer of normal environmental fungi: Aspergillus, Exophiala, stuff like that. Ubiquitous and—maybe most important—in no way the distillery’s fault.”

Scott discovered that under a microscope one species seemed to be very dominant, but cultivation in a petri dish only yielded the generic blend that already the SWA Research Institute had found.

And here is where Scott’s genius kicked in. He isolated a tiny piece of the dominant fungus under the microscope and cultivated it on its own. But the colonies remained vanishingly small. What did Scott do? He bought a bottle of Canadian Club and enriched his cultivation substrate with whisky. And all of a sudden, the cultures flourished!

It turned out that this fungus was identical to a fungus disovered in 1872 by Antonin Baudoin in Cognac where it grew close to the distilleries.

It’s Your Turn, Diageo!

Diageo’s claim that their warehouses are not responsible for the black mess in Tullibody seems to be founded on the same evidence that had already misled the SWA Research Institute in Canada. It seems they just cultivated samples of the fungus in the traditional way on plain agar jelly, neglecting the fact that Baudoinia needs ethanol for its growth. It is no surprise when only generic fungi will be found because without ethanol they suppress the true distillery fungus Baudoinia Compniacensis.

Now it is up to Diageo to substantiate their claim that alcohol vapours from their distilleries and warehouses are not responsible for nearby growth of black fungus.

The picture was taken in Dufftown between Mortlach and Dufftown distilleries.

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