Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Cheap drink, costly drink

Nineteen people in Costa Rica died from tainted alcohol over the past two months, according to health officials, who have issued a national alert and confiscated around 30,000 bottles of alcohol. 
The deaths in June and July span the country, and most likely were caused by methanol poisoning, according to a statement the country’s health ministry issued on Friday. At least six brands of high alcohol content liquors are known to have been confiscated.... 
...Methanol poisoning typically occurs through the consumption of counterfeit or improperly produced alcohol products. The specific cause of this outbreak was not yet clear, but such problems sometimes arise when properly branded bottles of liquor are refilled and resold with cheaply produced bootleg liquor. 
While processing alcohol, methanol is naturally produced, said Dr. George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Commercial alcohol manufacturers then remove it before bottling. The problems emerge when alcohol is distilled at home or on the black market without building in a system for removing the methanol. Low levels of the sort found in a home-brewed beer are not likely to be harmful, he said. But the high levels present in hard liquors can be deadly... 
...Figuring out which alcohol has been improperly produced is not always straightforward, the report states. One hint in the recent outbreak was the cost of the product, according to La Nación, a Costa Rican newspaper. Most of the affected products cost around $1.74 a bottle.
I guess people aren't tossing the forecuts of cheap liquor distillations? That costs money, I suppose. So a dumb question - is there a cheap test for sufficiently toxic methanol contamination in ethanol? I am guessing the answer is "no" (and a quick Googling indicates that as well.) Too bad - that would be an interesting problem solving challenge for students... 


  1. If what I see on Moonshiners is to be believed, the forecuts aren't even a very large portion of the total distillate.

    1. As someone who has 'theoretically' dabbled in distillation, the forecuts are truly minuscule.

  2. Didn't know that homebrew beer was liable to produce methanol

    1. home-distilling as a source of methanol poisoning is baloney - even if you were using high-pectin fruit and end up drinking methanol rich fore-runs (which consist just of few % of total volume of distillate), you would get just a vicious hangover. By the way, proper high-quality 100% blue agave tequila contains several % of methanol. Attempts to remove MeOH from tequila by a more efficient distillation is detrimental to taste so methanol is left in on purpose.

      MeOH in hard liquor comes from either using alcohol denatured with 5% of MeOH, and not purifying it enough, or deliberately adding MeOH. The later case (a deliberate poisoning) actually happened few years back in Czech Republic. A gang of criminals in a disreputable distillery was trying to damage reputation of their more successful competitor, and making profit while at it, by producing a deliberately methanol-poisoned batch of counterfeit methanolic booze that looked like from their competitor, by using original but stolen bottle labels. As there was an extensive black market cheap booze network supplying pubs and convenience stores, the poisoned batch ended up distributed who knows where and only a small portion got traced and recalled. There were many victims.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20