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Am I Going to Go Blind?

July 5, 2012

With the success of the Cow Thieves homebrew has come a tremendous curiosity to dabble in a few other DIY booze projects. I’m working on a second variety of the Nobler Bitters but after our visit to NY Distilling Co. I’ve gotten the itch to start my own still. Not for any commercial application: at least not at the moment. But rather, working on my own distillation is just another way to further my alcoholic education.

But can’t you go blind drinking your own distilled production if you aren’t careful?

Funny you ask that because I had read and heard the same rumors: nightmare tales of do it yourselfers ending up with too much methyl alcohol in their cocktails and losing their sight in the process. But it turns out this is just isn’t the case.

If you remember back in some of my original posts, I talked about the basics of distillation. Distillation as a process is based off of the low temperature boiling point of ethanol as compared to water. As a mixture of alcohol, water, and other components are heated up, the alcohol will evaporate first and with a little cool water circulating through, that same alcohol can be condensed and consumed by all! The rumors around methanol seemed to be valid as methanol has an even lower boiling part than ethanol; but unlike between ethanol and water, the difference is minimal. In theory, throwing out the first portions of the distillate could minimize the methanol content further but is it worth risking your eye sight?

The science is valid, but the production of methanol just isn’t what the rumors claim it to be. During fermentation the production of methanol is minimal at most. Therefore, the final concentration of methanol in your distillate shouldn’t even come close to reaching the levels of blindness-inducing. So how did these rumors come to be? Has anyone actually gone blind?

It turns out there has been a fair number of cases where ignorance caused blindness, rather than improper distillation. Wood alcohol (methanol) being purchased for cheap, boozy punches instead of grain alcohol (ethanol) has proven to be deadly. According to Wikipedia, even only 30 mL of methanol can kill you! So what’s the takeaway here:

(1) You are going to want to try my first distilling project without worry and (2) make sure the next time you drink out of a party punch, you trust your friends. Or maybe check the bottle for a grain alcohol label to be sure.

Anyone out there have some home distillation experience to pass along?

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