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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.

  • Hey all my family lived on the mountain in front of popcorn shutton. they made more shine than he ever did . I am going to get them to teach me but I do know this they use white corn sugar spring water no yeast but if u use yeast u want to use it while it is still working just pass high point an use vinegar water to clean all copper parts I have to ask them on rest ty.

    Posted by rex on February 17, 2017
  • My family

    Posted by rex on February 17, 2017
  • I have more of a quetion than a comment. If i distill a batch 2 or 3 times . Would i throw out some each time i distill it?

    Posted by Mark on February 12, 2017
  • The post have resolved my problem,thank you very much and hope you writting more good articles.
    RB2140 Original Wayfarer Classic Black Ban Wayfarer/RB0000184_1.jpg

    Posted by RB2140 Original Wayfarer Classic Black on December 22, 2016
  • Why not try an experiment? get some methanol, mix it with water and try to distill if off at well below174F. then bring the temperature above that and see what happens.
    the quoted boiling point for methanol is for a pure product not a molecule ionically associated with a water molecule, I would wager it reacts quite differently in solution.

    Posted by steve on November 13, 2016
  • Hi from overseas.

    When referring to pints, are you referring to u.s. pints (473 ml metric) or to imperial pints (568 ml metric).

    Posted by AJF88 on August 15, 2016
  • Ok, I have a question that doesn’t seem to have been covered below.
    In reference to discarding the methanol and heads, If you are using a still that has a thumper, the very first distillates end up in the thumper, not in the worm. So, my question is, if you are supposed to get rid of the methanol at the beginning of the process, should I be leaving the valve on the thumper open until I get up to about 170 degrees, just to make sure I am not constantly mixing the hearts with the methanol inside the thumper?

    Posted by RIch on March 23, 2016
  • I am currently making my 4th batch of all most all grain shine. Most of my friends that have tried it prefer it over JD and Makers Mark.

    I use a 6 quart pressure cooker as my still with copper tubing attached and copper worm. I ferment 4 gallons at time and then do small distilling runs. Each time I throw out the first shot glass no matter what temp I am at.

    My recipe is as follows:
    1 lb Barley
    3 lb Wheat
    7 lb Rye
    3/4 lb black berries
    1 lb cranberries
    1 jar malted barley syrup
    1/2 jar molasses
    1 jar honey
    1 cup sugar

    Boil the cranberries and blackberries to make a berry juice. Drain, crush berries and rinse this back into the berry juice. Boil again and add the honey. I let it boil for 45 minutes

    Make your grain Mash and and the wash. Add the molasses, malted barley syrup and sugar. Put back on stove and boil. I let mine boil down for 1 hour.

    Let cool to 90 degrees – mix together and taste. hmmmmmm so good. Start the fermentation process.

    For initial fermentation I use organic active dry yeast. On day 4 of fermentation I add DADY to finish it off. I do it this way just in case I want to drink it as beer.

    distill and Fill up the 3l barrel and let age for 2 weeks minimum.

    Posted by Mike on February 21, 2016
  • Simple math and some common sense is the whole trick to making good tasting safe to drink shine or brandy. My example: We share the 300 gallon still we built. Our simple rules: bring the mash up to temp slowly. Hold the temp of 160 for the first 15 minutes or until it quits dripping. Then continue to raise the temp up to 180 when the pot hits the 200 mark the run is over. Same process as described earlier: Cut heads,hold hearts,reuse the tails.

    Posted by mR EARL on October 25, 2015
  • Jesse, my guess Would be that it is from corrosion in the copper tubing in the still.

    Posted by bill on August 24, 2015
  • I have some shine a friend made it was clear when i got . It it sat in the freezer for a week now has something blue in it at the bottom any idea what this could be?

    Posted by Jesse on June 26, 2015
  • I was wondering if flaked maze is the same as feedcorn or is maze a sweet corn or is feed corn is the same just not milled

    Posted by Robert Weber on June 06, 2015
  • My sugar wash fermented great for almost 5 days, looked great and then it turned kinda of an orange color. Anyone have any ideas what is going on?

    Posted by Mary on March 26, 2015
  • 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

    Posted by Keith McAfee on August 07, 2014
    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
  • on a 5gal mash run how many pints are heads and how many pints are harts 15p of sugar used

    Posted by John Van Houden on June 23, 2014
  • When I shine the first jar comes out clear and the other three come out cloudy. Is there something I’m Doing wrong?

    Posted by Stuart on June 03, 2014

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