Can Moonshine Drink Cause Your Health Problems?
The Internet is full of mixed messages about alcohol. Why some set of individuals however believed until you can consume much bottles of alcohol qualify you to be man enough, putting yourself to health risk. On the one hand, moderate amounts have been linked to health benefits.
Another source quote alcohol can lead to mental addictive and highly toxic — especially when you drink too much.
The truth is that the health effects of alcohol vary between individuals and depend on the amount and type of alcohol consumed. However, in this article, I will discusses how alcohol affects your health
Do you know a glass of clear moonshine may look identical to water, but this illicit alcoholic beverage is infamous for its potency — and for the peril associated with drinking it.
What Is Moonshine Made Of?
Broadly, moonshine is made by fermenting a sugar source to produce ethanol. Traditionally, moonshine is made from a mash of corn and sugar. The alcohol is separated from the mash by a distillation process. One big difference between moonshine and other liquors like whiskey or bourbon. The result is a distilled spirit that contains a high percentage of alcohol, many times greater than 100 proof (50 percent), like a white whiskey. [Drinking The Recommended Alcohol Per Week Linked With A Lower Life Expectancy]
Moonshine, the formerly hush-hush, home-distilled liquor of backwoods Appalachia is still around. In fact, it’s now legit. “White lightning,” as it’s called, was once completely an illicit and banned substance by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but it is now permitted for sale and regulated by the U.S. federal government in some states. The first legal moonshine distillery in Tennessee opened its doors in 2010, and others followed in Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Moonshine is any type of distilled liquor that’s manufactured without government oversight, though some argue that moonshine can be labeled as such only when it is made with certain ingredients or comes from specific geographic regions.
People all over the world make and drink moonshine, particularly in places where alcohol is illegal or where legal alcohol is prohibitively expensive or hard to get. But producing spirits can be a tricky chemical process; manufacturers’ mistakes, ignorance or shortcuts can yield a highly toxic product.
So, how does that happen, and how can you tell if a glass of moonshine is safe?
Alcohol in moonshine and other intoxicating drinks comes from fruits or grains that are fermented, they are exposed to yeasts or bacteria that convert sugar molecules to carbon dioxide and alcohol.
But moonshine is also made from grapes, plums or apricots (Armenia), barley (Egypt), palm tree sap (Myanmar), bananas (Uganda) and cashew fruit (India), said Kevin Kosar, author of “Moonshine: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2017).
Fermentation produces two forms of alcohol: ethanol and methanol, which is also known as wood alcohol. Methanol is released from pectin, and is therefore more abundant in fermented fruit, according to research published by the American Chemical Society. Though ethanol is generally considered safe for drinking, both ethanol and methanol suppress the central nervous system and inhibit brain function. Consuming too much alcohol — even the “safe” kind — can cause alcohol poisoning, affecting heart rate and breathing and even leading to coma and death, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Methanol is far more dangerous than ethanol, said Anne Andrews, a professor of psychiatry, chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. In the human body, methanol is converted to formaldehyde — the same substance in embalming fluid — and then to formic acid, which is highly toxic to cells.
Regulated alcohol production — including commercial moonshine — is carefully monitored. Products are rigorously tested to ensure that methanol is separated from the beverage and that the amount of alcohol by volume is clearly identified on packaging and labels. But for unregulated moonshine makers, there are no universal guidelines or enforced safety checks. Moonshine can therefore be more potent than legal beverages, and a batch of moonshine can quickly turn toxic, Andrews said.
How Dangerous Is Moonshine?
Illegal moonshine remains dangerous because it is mostly brewed in makeshift stills. It can be dangerous on two levels, both during the distilling process and when consuming it.
The distilling process itself produces alcohol vapors which are highly flammable. More than one moonshine maker has died by striking a match to light his pipe at the wrong time. The flammable vapors are one major reason why moonshine stills are almost always located outside, although it makes them easier to be spotted by law enforcement. The threat of vaporous explosions is too great if confined inside. In terms of consuming the liquid, if the final product is over 100 proof, the moonshine itself is flammable and can be very dangerous.
Poison For Profit
In some cases, greed is the cause of moonshine’s toxicity. Unscrupulous manufacturers that want to increase the volume of their moonshine either don’t remove methanol or add a cheap, toxic alcohol like isopropyl, which is found in rubbing alcohol. Though this tactic may boost profits, it significantly raises the risk that the drink will be poisonous.
More people have died from drinking moonshine than have died by explosions of stills due to the toxins in the brew. Although many of the stills in operation today are the all copper variety, there are plenty of the old handmade stills still around.
Old stills use vehicle radiators in the distilling process, and they are apt to contain lead soldering, which could contaminate the moonshine. The old radiators could also contain remnants of antifreeze glycol products which could also add toxins to the brew.
In larger batches of distilled moonshine, can occur. Because methanol vaporizes at a lower temperature than alcohol, the first liquid produced by the distillation process can contain methanol. The larger the batch, the more methanol.
Methanol is highly poisonous and can cause blindness and even death. Most moonshine makers today know to pour off those first drippings from the condenser, also known as the foreshot, but not all of them know or do it.
“With alarming regularity, there are stories — often coming from parts of Asia — where people go out and buy illicit alcohol, they have a party, and then hours into the party, people just start dropping and having convulsions.”
Drinking alcohol with high levels of methanol can also lead to blindness: Methanol caused 130 deaths and 22 cases of blindness in just six months during Prohibition, according to a 1922 article in The New York Times that cited a report by the U.S. National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness. Even when moonshine doesn’t contain toxic levels of methanol, it’s difficult for a casual drinker to tell how strong a batch may be without testing it — an uncertainty that could lead to accidental alcohol poisoning. The best way for drinkers to stay safe is to give illicit alcohol a wide berth, Kosar said.
“Unless you’re a close friend of the person producing the moonshine and have absolute trust in their competence to produce it, don’t drink it,” he warned.
How Can You Tell If Moonshine Is Safe?
Folklore tells us one way to test the purity of moonshine is to pour some in a metal spoon and set it on fire. If it burns with a blue flame it is safe, but if it burns with a yellow or red flame, it contains lead, prompting the old saying, “Lead burns red and makes you dead.”
But, the spoon burning method is not completely reliable. This test does not detect other toxins that might be in the brew, like methanol, which burns with a colorless flame.
With millions of gallons of moonshine being produced each year in the United States, chances are some of it is going to be tainted. Health officials are concerned that moonshine toxicity in ailing patients might be overlooked because most healthcare providers consider it a tradition of the past.
- Appalachian State University. “It’s All Legal Until You Get Caught: Moonshining in the Southern Appalachians.” Department of Anthropology 2007.
- BBC News. “Moonshine ‘tempts new generation’.” US & Canada July 2010
- Clawhammer Supply. “10 Most Important Safety Tips for Moonshiners.” How to Make Moonshine Safely March 2013
- Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems.