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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.

  • How much moonshine do you get out one gallon of mash

    Posted by Ed on April 10, 2014
  • How many jars of shine are in one still

    Posted by Jonathan wiedemann on April 01, 2014
  • Lots of good info in the beginning learning stages always check y’all for my questions thanks a lot

    Posted by Md shiner on March 06, 2014
  • Brass wont hurt. Copper takes out the sulfer taste. The blue color is due to acid in the mash u can add more water to ur mash to bring it down. And to the ppl that say that their shine tast nasty ur prob getting tails in it tails have a oily feel to them. Best way to make shure ur getting what u want is to proof it thru ur run

    Posted by ??? on February 05, 2014
  • I have a turbo air still, my distillate tastes nasty, tried corn and sugar mash, running it twice…….filtered with carbon afterwards…….even tried running homemade wine……..all has nasty “gasoline” taste…… there something “chemical wise” I need to put in while distilling?………or any other suggestions?


    Posted by david on January 26, 2014
  • I was going to make a small still using an indirect connection off of my home heating boiler to heat the still. I can dial in the exact tempreture I want … will not have to worry about too hot or too cold. Any thoughts?

    Posted by Dave Morrison on January 26, 2014
  • If I must stop a run during because of emergency. Can I start it back up? And if so do I have to throw away the first part du to methanol !?

    Posted by Coy on January 22, 2014
  • 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 12, 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

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