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January 20, 2013

Methanol - Will Moonshine Make You Blind?

Moonshine and Blindness

We get a lot of questions about how to distill safely. One of the most frequent questions we get is "can moonshine make you blind?" The short answer is this: when made in small batches while following a few simple safety precautions, moonshine will NOT cause blindness, death, or even a bad hangover. 

In the article below we'll explain what could cause moonshine to make someone go blind and we'll also explain how to be absolutely, positively, 100% sure that this won't happen.moonshine methanol poison blind

Methanol Toxicity

Methyl alcohol (methanol) is the bad stuff that could be found in moonshine. Pure methanol is very dangerous and it is definitely able to cause blindness and even kill people. As little as 10 ml of pure methanol could blind someone and as little as 30 ml could kill someone. 30 mililiters is equivalent to the amount of liquid in a standard shot glass.

How is Methanol Produced?

Methanol is found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. It may also be produced as an unintended byproduct during the fermentation process. Spirits distilled from fruits, such as apples, oranges, and grapes, are more likely to contain methanol. Both beer and wine generally contain methanol. Studies have determined that wine can contain as much as 329 mg/L and beer may contain somewhere on the order of 16 mg/L. This makes distilled wine (grappa, brandy, etc.) potentially more dangerous than all grain shine - such as corn whiskey.

Why is Methanol A Concern for Moonshiners?

If wine contains methanol but doesn't pose a risk of methanol poisoning then why is it potentially dangerous to drink once distilled? The difference is that the methanol concentration in, say, 5 gallons of wine, is evenly distributed among the 5 gallons. For someone to ingest a potentially dangerous amount they would need to ingest more than 5 gallons....or 28 bottles! 

During the distillation process methanol is concentrated at the start of the run because it has a lower boiling point than ethanol and water. The boiling point of methanol is approximately 148 degrees farenheit, which is quite a bit lower than ethanol (the good stuff). This means that methanol (148F boiling temp) will start to boil before the ethanol (174F boiling temp). This is why moonshiners always throw out the first bit of shine they produce from each run (more on this below).

Here are a few examples of the dangers of methanol:

  • If 5 gallons of wine containing the abovementioned concentration of methanol (329mg/L) were distilled, there could be as much as 8 mL of methyl alcohol in the first jar - a potentially dangerous amount.
  • Scale this up to a 100 gallon batch, distilled all at the same time in a large still, and you could potentially have a very big problem if the methanol was not discarded. Distilling 100 gallons of wine containing 329 mg/L of methanol could result in the concentration of 40ml of methanol, which could be fatal if someone drank it all at once.

How to Remove Methanol from Moonshine

One way to determine the presence of methanol is to monitor still temperature. If anything is produced by the still before wash temperature reaches 174 degrees, it's methanol. Discard it. Again, methanol boils at a lower temperature than ethanol and will concentrate at the beginning of distillation runs. Additionally, experienced distillers have determined that simply discarding a standard amount per batch, based on batch size, is enough to keep things safe. The rule of thumb is to discard 1/3 of a pint jar for every 5 gallons of wash being distilled.

How much initial product to discard:

  • 1 gallon batch - discard the first 2/3 of a shot glass
  • 5 gallon batch - discard the first 1/3 of a pint jar
  • 10 gallon batch - discard the first 3/4 of a pint jar

Regardless of still temp, it's a good idea to always follow this rule of thumb. Methanol or not, the first stuff to come off the still tastes and smells like rubbing alcohol. It's by far the worst stuff in the entire run and it isn't going to impress anyone. If you drink it, it might not kill you or make you go blind, but it'll surely contribute a fair amount towards a nasty hangover. Checkout our article "Making Moonshine - The Dummies' Guide" for more information on foreshots and making proper cuts.

Thanks for reading and happy distilling! For more safety tips, check out the 10 most important safety tips for moonshiners.

  • Very informative site and comments. My first run on my homemade still was 3 gallons shit Vodka and one pint johnny Walker Red Scotch whisley. Already distilled. 1st run 1.4 hours no temp gauge. Final out put. 1 Gallon 180 proof crystal clear moomshine. With a hint of scotch. When diluted with water at 50/50. Increadible wood scotch smooth taste. I also got 1/2 gal of 130 proof. The leftovers in pan are 1 full gallon of 30 proof wash. Can I re-distI’ll that last amount and use it? Fast forward to last night. My first round I had 5 gal mash bucket. 4 pounds corn flakes and 4 oz rye and 4 ounces liquid scotch wiskey yeast, 5 pounds sugar (corn). 7 days yeast was finished and no more activity. Took all liquid out of the bucket. Ran through. This where I got confussed. The product. I pulled from the first firmentation was approximarely 1 gallon. 150 proof with the whole thing. Now this stuff is where I couldn’t figure out what to do next so I discarded the mash or should I not? I went ahead and redistilled same gallon and now I have a little off of a gallon 130 proof. A little sweet. Still not taking off the methonal. Can I distill this one last time and take off the first two ones and is this OK to drink? Now keep in mind. I have not added any ofriends the wash back to anything else except water for the secondelay run. Now that it is complete it is cloudy. Please help

    Posted by tj on January 14, 2015
  • if your wash is only 400ml you risk for everything is minimilized, but your mistakes will be of greater impact. any way i would reccomend getting a bigger still if at all possible. Other wise you simply need to scale down the formulas on this site. The math is not that complicated, and is is pretty big part of making and stilling. So do some figuring on them numbers it will help you out down the line.

    Posted by bubbahotep on October 31, 2014
  • hi, my still can only hold 400 ml of wash. after 80ml or so has been distilled, the spirit becomes weak. I am coating the bottom of my jug with the first spirit off the still, then discarding it. its a small amount, but there would be nothing left if i through away like 50 ml. is this ok given the size of my still?

    Posted by danny on August 12, 2014
  • When you distill mash, sugar and yeast in a pot still to make grappa, do you need to filter the grappa? Or does carbon filtering the end product grappa destroy the taste of the grappa? Thanks
    Keith.

    Posted by Keith McAfee on August 07, 2014
  • @STUART
    The main cause for cloudiness is either (your mash did not produce any alcohol. This happens for some who don’t sanitize to a satisfactory minimal.) or (You are getting water and other chemicals mixed in the process. Try to slowly bring your temperature up. If you bring it up to fast all of the liquids will share the same boiling point.

    Posted by Justin Gillett on July 20, 2014


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