Henderson Distillery Company investors’ worries that citizen concerns of a whiskey fungus could set back, or change, the plans of their project were put to rest Tuesday when the Henderson City Commission voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of the land on which the distillery will sit.
“I think about Henderson kind of like a crown and this is one of the crown jewels that will be in downtown Henderson to make it better,” said Commissioner Austin Vowels of the coming distillery.
Concern arose recently when residents became aware that near other distilleries, both in the United States and abroad, there have been cases of a whiskey fungus that covers nearby buildings, street signs, trees and other objects.
This whiskey fungus—its scientific name, Baudoinia compniacensis—occurs when outside fungus feeds on ethanol alcohol vapors that escape from barrels during the aging process. The result is a soot-like residue.
According to several articles on the web, whisky fungus has covered surfaces of properties near many distilleries, the most well-known of these occurring in Lincoln County, Tenn., where Jack Daniels distilleries are located.
Twelve residents had filed appeals about the distillery. Three spoke at Tuesday’s special called meeting to address those concerns and then vote on the rezoning. Only one, though, Bill Latta, spoke about the whiskey fungus. Main Street resident Jule McClellan raised concerns about odor and property values, and Elm Street resident Victoria Yevincy was worried that the liquid leftover from the distilling process could be detrimental to local water quality if discharged into the river.
Latta still had concerns about the whiskey fungus but said he was 75% on board with the coming distillery. He said Henderson Distilling representatives had met with him and assured him that the company would clean whiskey fungus that might cover his home.
They even created a contract with a 15-year limit that assures residents to get their homes cleaned if whiskey fungus is present. Company representatives have said they’ll clean homes with or without a contract, adding they just don’t think it will be a problem with an operation as small as theirs.
They say that the storehouse downtown will not hold enough barrels for the whiskey fungus to develop. They said that the maximum number of barrels that could be stored on site is between 2,000 to 2,500, but they’d probably end up storing many fewer than that, probably less than 1,000.
Investors and developers, meeting with residents five days earlier at the Depot Gallery, worked to assure them that whiskey fungus wouldn’t be a local problem. They brought in a microbiologist and distillery owner who said whiskey fungus at his site developed on his building but didn’t go any farther.
“We really know there’s not going to be an issue,” said Bill Fidler, an investor in the company, at the Thursday meeting. “We’re not going to allow it to be an issue in Henderson, Kentucky.”
Additionally, Andrew Powell, who is the developer, said at the city commission meeting that smells associated with the distilling process won’t leave Henderson Distilling buildings because the fermentation tanks will be closed.
He also said that real estate values in other locations near distilleries have increased, citing a section in Lexington where there are three distilleries and “house values in that area are skyrocketing.”
The 3-plus acres that make up the future campus of the Henderson Distilling Company had been zoned as two different classifications. Tuesday’s approval leaves the entire lot between Water and Main streets and 4th and 5th streets zoned as Central Business District.
The next step for the distilling company will be to appear before the Board of Zoning Adjustments at its December meeting, when it will be determined if conditions are placed on the use of the property.
The land on which the distillery and company buildings will be located is currently in use by Henderson Municipal Power and Light. HMP&L is scheduled to vacate those buildings and move to its new location on Barret Boulevard behind Walmart. The move will begin in December and should be complete by mid-January, said Brad Bickett, general manager for HMP&L.
At that point, the work will begin, Powell said. He hopes the distilling business can be open early next fall.