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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.

  • How do you get your mash into the still, after watching your videos it appears that the still is completely sealed besides the 3 ports for water and liquor.

    Posted by George on January 12, 2014
  • How do I know how much yeast to use in a 5 gal. wash?
    How do you know when you are at the tail of your run?

    Posted by Ron Lee on January 05, 2014
  • Does the initial percent of alcohol in your mash or beer change the amount of heads you need to discard to remove the methanol? Rule of thumb is 2/3 of a shot glass per 1 gallon of mash but what if the mash is 20% ABV?

    Posted by thomasedwin on January 01, 2014
  • Does the initial percent of alcohol in your mash or beer change the amount of heads you need to discard to remove the methanol? Rule of thumb is 2/3 of a shot glass per 1 gallon of mash but what if the mash is 20% ABV?

    Posted by thomasedwin on January 01, 2014
  • as far as I know the liquor that turns blue can be solved by running a pint of white vinegar through your copper, still, worm, thump keg. It is a reaction between the alcohol and corrosion in the copper.

    The Methanol can be removed easily if you have time and are patient. Quickly raise your temperature to 150F and hold it there till the worm stops producing. Then you can get on to the ethanol by quickly raising the wash to 176F and carefully holding it there. Proof your product until it becomes 40% alcohol. Mix the run together and proof it down to 50 or 55% with deionized water. And stop collection for drinking. Hold your temp until the worm stops producing and use this product in your thump keg for your doubler in the next run.

    Posted by Jimmy Crack Corn on December 30, 2013
  • Can you use the Methanol in place of alcohol used in making an alcohol lantern.

    Posted by marjorie on December 23, 2013
  • what kw gas burner would you recommend for a 40gallon stil.

    Posted by bob hurley on December 13, 2013
  • If methanol evaporates at 148 degrees, can you run your still at 148 degrees to collect the methanol then raise the temp once the methanol stops dripping?

    Posted by GooberMan on November 17, 2013
  • Making one gallon batch. Should I use a shot glass and let it fill up and the proceed to place final container under the outlet?

    Posted by mike on November 11, 2013
  • how do I determine how much yeast is required in a batch of wash

    Posted by Phil McFadden on August 28, 2013
  • my friend said he tried to make shine and the first drops came out blue. he said he was using cracked corn, sugar, and molasses. he used stainless steel and a copper worm.

    Posted by johnny rotten on June 23, 2013
  • How much yeast is to much yeast?

    Posted by Scott Cann on May 18, 2013
  • How do you know when your at the tail of your run how many quart jars can you get out of a 10 gal still?

    Posted by Josh mabery on April 21, 2013
  • what is the best way of getting the highest alcohol content in mesh using all corn or should sugar be added also

    Posted by kevin salts on March 20, 2013
  • Will a brass fitting hurt the distilling process if it is coming off the top of the stainless pot where the copper tube is coming out to the condenser/worm? If so, where could I buy a stainless steel fitting for the cooper? Suggestions welcome.

    Posted by SLE on February 24, 2013
  • Could the water that people use in the wash be substituted for say a type of juice like use applejuice instead of water when mixing ingredients???

    Posted by kcmd on February 14, 2013
  • Honny shine is nothing more than mead?? Should I let it work for the 28 days before I make a run?

    Posted by Bo mosher on February 12, 2013
  • If you run it back I would dump the first 2/3 of a pint to be sure and of course your end result I think would be higher in alcohol content……

    Posted by WVmoonshiner on February 08, 2013
  • A method I was taught is basically when the run starts that amounts are collected in small batches swirl in a small class then cup your hand around and look into the glass if the vapor makes your eye burn it is not good enough to drink. I do discard it as not drinkable but I still collect and keep it. One I can use it to offer up proof that I have it since I am making fuel to add back lol second it makes a good part cleaner can be cut with water to sanatize etc.

    Posted by PaKettle on February 06, 2013
  • would it be a good idea to bring the mash to a slower boil when distilling and hold it at the temperature at which methanol boils then after a while turn up the heat to 174 to get your ethanol or (alcohol)?

    Posted by alex on February 04, 2013

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