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Can I get methanol poisoning from home brew beer?

methanol poisoning from beer

Can I make methanol when home brewing?


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

This is because methanol is quite the 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 boat going blind from homemade booze right?

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

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

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I saw a query from a gentleman who decided to drink a wine after having left open for 2 months. The wine was disgusting, he burned his throat and felt like he had a head. He wondered if the wine had turned into methanol so as to explain his condition. The wine's ethanol had not converted to methanol, instead, it was oxygenised and became a vile vinegar!

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