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January 20, 2013
Last updated

Methanol - Will Moonshine Make You Blind?

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

Moonshine and Blindness 

When a commercial distiller is making moonshine (think Ole' Smokey or Sugarlands), a very real safety concern is creating a product that is poisonous. Fortunately, as long as a few simple safety precautions are followed, commercially distilled 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 a commercial distiller would be absolutely, positively, 100% sure that this won't happen.
moonshine methanol poison blind

Before we get move on, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

Methanol Toxicity

Methyl alcohol (methanol) is the bad stuff that could be found in moonshine (or any distilled spirit for that matter). 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 milliliters 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 Distillers?

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 production 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 commercial distillers always throw out the first bit of shine they produce from each production 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 a commercial distiller 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 a commercial distiller would 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. A commercial distiller will discard it. Again, methanol boils at a lower temperature than ethanol and will concentrate at the beginning of distillation runs. Additionally, commercial 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 production run and it isn't going to impress anyone. A commercial distiller would never drink or sell the first stuff produced by a still. Checkout our article "Making Moonshine - The Dummies' Guide" for more information on this topic.

Thanks for reading! For more safety tips, check out the 10 most important safety tips for distillers.

Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

  • I plan to begin a distillary

    Posted by Kunihira on October 03, 2023
  • Made a 5 gallon run got 4 quarters was clear but turned yellow 12 hours later what is wrong what happened

    Posted by Danny on March 02, 2021

    Posted by TOM C on January 28, 2021
  • Never mind I see that you can’t respond and have it visible to the Public

    Posted by JAson on January 04, 2021
  • Where do I see all the answers to these very useful questions?

    Posted by JAson on January 04, 2021
  • I have just distilled a run of 95% alcohol and realise I forgot to throw away the first 100mil of Methanol .
    Can I do anything to keep the batch or should I just throw it away and start again .
    Regards Ron

    Posted by Ron on November 24, 2020
  • i have not done any distilling yet but found this site and found it very informative to learn this my only complaint is how can i see the answer to the questions as i have many of the same question i don t what to repost the same question and endding up boring anyone really like this site thank you

    Posted by george on April 21, 2020
  • how long does the mash last before its cooked

    Posted by winfert boone on November 22, 2019
  • I am starting to distill Gin from Ethanol, the usual 96% type from agricultural origin. MY batches are small, like 25 or 50 liters max. Therefore no fermentation involved.
    is it possible that methanol gets produced during that process as i want to avoid somebody getting sick. Do i have to test every single batch for methanol via gas chromatograph which would be an expensive exercise?
    would the methanol contents increase if the ethanol is less than 96% pure for whatever reason? thanks in advance.

    Posted by Richard Rathelbeck on July 12, 2019
  • I have a “friend” who I had heard of successfully producing shine / fuel multiple times by using advice found in your site, as well as others. When my “friend” produced the shine he never seemed to get a methanol, or acetone drip during the heat build up. I….. I mean my “friend” slowly…very slowly brings the heat up to 172 Fahrenheit. In the 4 gallons of mash being heated, it takes my “friend” about 75 minutes to reach the desired range of temperature. the first 150 ml are collected and put aside to be disposed. For curiosity sake we… I mean, my “friend” carefully takes a teaspoon of first 150 ml and puts an ignition source to it. Each and every time he sees a blue flame. He has never, ever seen a yellow, or orange flame, (which is supposed to suggest the presence of toxins). My guess is that due to the slow buildup of heat the methanol and acetone evaporate. The foreshot, or head never does smell toxic. Granted, it doesn’t smell as good as the heart of the body…but I question if, in fact I’m throwing away good product. Wait, correction… If my "friend"is throwing away good product.
    Can you tell me it my theory is correct regarding the methanol is merely evaporating due to the slow heat buildup?

    Posted by Cj on September 12, 2018
  • My question is same as the one above, is there methanol present on consecutive runs or just on the first and also is a blue flame a good way to tell if I have drinkable product.

    Posted by larry on August 01, 2018
  • Kris june 13, 2018. The mash % changes the starting boil temp. Your better off using many jars to find the ethenol. Distill a second time and start around 35% (so you dont blow up) to see a boiling temp that is closer to the charts here.

    Posted by Chris on July 20, 2018
  • my still does not start to condensate the spirit before temperature reaches about 87 Celsius. I do not get a single drop of spirit before that point. I thus do not understand all the hullaballoo about methanol. can someone please amplify?

    Posted by Kris on June 13, 2018
  • I made some mash it’s corn sugar water and yeast it fermented fine but I was wondering can I freeze distill it and drink it and not worry about methonal or is it not safe to drink?

    Posted by Patrick on May 18, 2018
  • I need help! my apple mash smells like crap. I think it fermented too long. WHAT DO I DO?

    Posted by Matt Jones on March 17, 2018
  • Now xxx means how many times you run it through the still so does that means i should repeat this proccess after each run, or only on first run since first batch is from mash and twice more is from shine : 5 gallon batch discard the first 1/3 of a pint jar.

    Posted by Scotty on February 21, 2018

    Posted by RUANO seMINER on November 13, 2017
  • HI I write from Brazil, and I’m trying to make schnapps (I think it’s the German version of Moonshine), but I’m worried about methanol. Do you know if there is any kind of chemical I use to avoid methanol, or is the solution just avoiding the head?

    Posted by luiz on September 29, 2017
  • If you just read the clawhammers’ instructions, and do a little research about what you are trying to accomplish with your shine, you will get excellent results, that’s what I did and my first run net me a gallon or 150 proof corn whiskey. You also need patience, which is why started this in the first place, due to my lack of patience, it’s a process that can’t be rushed, you literally get out what you put into it. HAPPY SHINING!!!!

    Posted by Reggie773 on March 27, 2017
  • I have discarded methanol [ head ] and I have stored the heart and tail. I do not know what to do with the " tail "

    Posted by joseph lawrence on March 02, 2017

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