Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?

methanol poisoning from beer

Can I accidentally make methanol when home brewing beer?


From time to time I see potential brewers ask if they will accidentally make methanol when foraying into beer production.

This is because methanol is quite a dangerous alcohol.

It is toxic to the human body and can have some very nasty effects - ranging from blindness to the worst of which is death.

Everyone has heard the stories of some Russian sailors on a fishing boat going blind from drinking homemade spirits right? Drinking this kind of 'rocket fuel' is just a hazard of the job eh?

First up, the answer to the question is that the ordinary beer home brewing process makes the alcohol called ethanol - not methanol. So you can't get methanol poisoning, no matter how much extra sugar you add.

That's in general though - some methanol can be produced but at such minor levels that have no effect on the beer or effect on the body when consumed.

Fruit beers which contain pectin could have slightly higher levels of the spirit but the effect is still negligible.

So from that perspective, there's no risk of making a beer batch of methanol and going blind. It's more likely that you will just get blind drunk or meet Darth Vader!!

There are however some genuine risks if one is distilling alcohol - backyard operations can indeed produce batches where the methanol content can be lethal (or more sinisterly methanol is added deliberately and sold on the bootleg market). It's for this reason, most countries in the world have made the distillation of spirits illegal - plenty of stills can be bought on Amazon though!

It is allowed in New Zealand but only for personal consumption.

The science of distillation is quite complicated and there appears to be an of myth around methanol production. They key point to understand that if you are homebrew brewing beer, there's no risk of making a killer brew.

Distillation on the other hand...

What is the treatment for methanol poisoning?


Methanol toxicity is the result of consuming from methanol.

The horrific symptoms may include a decreased level of consciousness, poor coordination, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a specific smell on the breath. The famous effect of decreased vision or blindness may start as early as twelve hours after exposure.

The blindness is caused by the methanol being broken down by the body into formic acid when then has a debilitating and damaging effect on the optic nerve.

Is there a cure for methanol poisoning?


There is a cure!

The sooner the antidote, fomepizole, is taken, the increased likelihood of a good outcome for the victim.

Other treatment options include dialysis and consumption of sodium bicarbonate, folate, and thiamine.

This is of course, not medical advice. If you have a consumption incident, seek medical services assistance immeadiately.

I saw a query from a gentleman who decided to drink a glass wine after having left the bottle opened for 2 months. The wine was disgusting, he burned his throat and he described that he felt like he had a headache. He wondered if the wine had turned into methanol so as to explain his condition.

It's more than likely that the wine's ethanol had not converted to methanol, instead, it was probably oxygenated and had become a vile vinegar!

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