Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems

Methanol — Will Moonshine Make You Blind?

Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems

This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.

Moonshine and Blindness

When a commercial distiller is making moonshine (think Ole' Smokey or Sugarlands), a very real safety concern is creating a product that is poisonous.

Fortunately, as long as a few simple safety precautions are followed, commercially distilled moonshine will NOT cause blindness, death, or even a bad hangover.

In the article below we'll explain what could cause moonshine to make someone go blind and we'll also explain how a commercial distiller would be absolutely, positively, 100% sure that this won't happen.

Before we get move on, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits.

Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only.

Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

Methanol Toxicity

Methyl alcohol (methanol) is the bad stuff that could be found in moonshine (or any distilled spirit for that matter).

Pure methanol is very dangerous and it is definitely able to cause blindness and even kill people. As little as 10 ml of pure methanol could blind someone and as little as 30 ml could kill someone.

30 milliliters is equivalent to the amount of liquid in a standard shot glass.

How is Methanol Produced?

Methanol is found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. It may also be produced as an unintended byproduct during the fermentation process. Spirits distilled from fruits, such as apples, oranges, and grapes, are more ly to contain methanol.

 Both beer and wine generally contain methanol. Studies have determined that wine can contain as much as 329 mg/L and beer may contain somewhere on the order of 16 mg/L. This makes distilled wine (grappa, brandy, etc.

) potentially more dangerous than all grain shine — such as corn whiskey.

Why is Methanol A Concern for Distillers?

If wine contains methanol but doesn't pose a risk of methanol poisoning then why is it potentially dangerous to drink once distilled? The difference is that the methanol concentration in, say, 5 gallons of wine, is evenly distributed among the 5 gallons. For someone to ingest a potentially dangerous amount they would need to ingest more than 5 gallons….or 28 bottles! 

During the distillation process methanol is concentrated at the start of the production run because it has a lower boiling point than ethanol and water.

The boiling point of methanol is approximately 148 degrees farenheit, which is quite a bit lower than ethanol (the good stuff). This means that methanol (148F boiling temp) will start to boil before the ethanol (174F boiling temp).

This is why commercial distillers always throw out the first bit of shine they produce from each production run (more on this below).

Here are a few examples of the dangers of methanol:

  • If 5 gallons of wine containing the abovementioned concentration of methanol (329mg/L) were distilled, there could be as much as 8 mL of methyl alcohol in the first jar — a potentially dangerous amount.
  • Scale this up to a 100 gallon batch, distilled all at the same time in a large still, and a commercial distiller could potentially have a very big problem if the methanol was not discarded. Distilling 100 gallons of wine containing 329 mg/L of methanol could result in the concentration of 40ml of methanol, which could be fatal if someone drank it all at once.

How to Remove Methanol from Moonshine

One way a commercial distiller would determine the presence of methanol is to monitor still temperature. If anything is produced by the still before wash temperature reaches 174 degrees, it's methanol. A commercial distiller will discard it.

Again, methanol boils at a lower temperature than ethanol and will concentrate at the beginning of distillation runs. Additionally, commercial distillers have determined that simply discarding a standard amount per batch, batch size, is enough to keep things safe.

The rule of thumb is to discard 1/3 of a pint jar for every 5 gallons of wash being distilled.

How much initial product to discard:

  • 1 gallon batch — discard the first 2/3 of a shot glass
  • 5 gallon batch — discard the first 1/3 of a pint jar
  • 10 gallon batch — discard the first 3/4 of a pint jar

Regardless of still temp, it's a good idea to always follow this rule of thumb. Methanol or not, the first stuff to come off the still tastes and smells rubbing alcohol.

It's by far the worst stuff in the entire production run and it isn't going to impress anyone. A commercial distiller would never drink or sell the first stuff produced by a still.

 Checkout our article «Making Moonshine — The Dummies' Guide» for more information on this topic.

Thanks for reading! For more safety tips, check out the 10 most important safety tips for distillers.


Making Moonshine is Safer Than You Think

Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems

People love to tell you how dangerous it is to run a moonshine still and how you’ll either cause an explosion, start a fire, or go blind. The truth is that there’s a VERY slim chance of any of those things happening, and I’ve got the research and statistics to back it up.

First off, I’m obviously talking about LEGALLY making moonshine, and this also includes distilling essential oils, fuel alcohol, water, vinegar, etc. I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law here. But I am encouraging anyone reading this to think about WHY home distilling is illegal and to consider whether the reasons for it being illegal 100 years ago are still applicable today.

Can an Alcohol Still Cause a Fire or Explosion?

The answer to this is similar to the answer to the question, “Can a stove or an oven cause a fire or explosion?” Because although catching fire is technically a possibility in both of these examples, the cause of the fire isn’t because of the equipment: It is caused by a careless person. Yet, there are stoves and ovens in pretty much every house, apartment—even in campers and RVs.

Let’s look at some stats from New Zealand, where home distilling was legalized in 1996. A study called “ Residential New Zealand Fire Statistics” was published a few years ago that compared the causes of home fires that occurred between 1986 and 2005.

They found that the leading causes of residential fires were from stoves, electric cook-tops and gas cook-tops. Residential fires caused by distilling equipment accounted for less than 0.14%. That’s not even close to 1% of those fires. Not even close to half a percent.

The scientific community would refer to that number as being “statistically insignificant.”

A different study called “ Human Behaviour Contributing To Unintentional Residential Fire Deaths”, conducted by the New Zealand Fire Service, looked at all deaths caused by residential fires between 1997 and 2003. No deaths were caused by fires started by distillation equipment. The top 3 causes of fires in this case were caused by unattended cooking, careless smoking, and unattended candles.

It’s also important to mention how moonshine stills have evolved over the years from this to this, in addition to now being able to use the safer option of electric heat instead of gas heat.

Back in the day, pressure cookers and turkey fryers, which are sealed and require pressure relief valves, have been used for distilling. If there’s nowhere for the pressure to go, then yes an explosion CAN occur—but that doesn’t have anything to do with distilling itself.

That’s a problem with people incorrectly using pressure cookers or turkey fryers, which weren’t invented for being used for distilling anyway. If used properly, even turkey fryers and pressure cookers build a pressure of only less than 1 PSI.

Additionally, today’s moonshine stills are designed to be open to the atmosphere at all times, eliminating the risk of explosion. If you look at a Brewhaus moonshine still as an example, the pressure is actually relieved out through the condenser.

Can Home Distilled Moonshine Make Me Go Blind?

This myth goes way back to moonshiners during the prohibition age. Back then, bootleggers would actually ADD methanol (methyl alcohol—the stuff that CAN make you go blind) to what they’d already distilled in order to have more moonshine to sell.

For them, more moonshine = more profit, so they didn’t really care what people were drinking as long as they were buying.

Nowadays, home distillers shun the idea of adding methanol to their distilled product because they’re trying to make high-quality, craft spirits that they want to drink themselves—and NOT sell to make some extra cash.

Methanol DOES naturally exist in most foods and beverages, including fruit and vegetable juices, soda, and wine. But this is in small amounts, which doesn’t put your health at risk.

If it did, then you’d want to stay away from orange juice: One liter of orange juice can contain more methanol than TEN liters of bourbon.

In New Zealand, the land of legal home distillation, there has been absolutely ZERO cases of methanol poisoning reported from consuming home distilled spirits.

I’d love to see this craft legalized one day, just homebrewing and home wine-making. The only way this is going to happen is if we let people know that using a home still to make your own moonshine is safer than we’ve been led to believe. If you have questions about this, ask us on . And SHARE this article with your friends and naysayers. Let’s reduce the stigma of moonshine together.


6 Common Distilling Myths and the Facts Behind Them

Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems

Myths and misconceptions abound when it comes to distilling and distilled spirits. Many are harmless, but some could cost companies thousands or lead to sickness and death. Here are six common myths and the real facts behind them.


One of the most common distilling myths centers around whiskey stones. In theory, you put the stones in your freezer, add them to your drink and then they cool the beverage without watering it down. 

Well, turns out, they don't do the job very well.

Ice cools through turning from a solid to a liquid, a process which sucks the heat the drink. And a process that your whiskey stones will not be able to replicate (unless your whiskey is 1,000+ degrees Farenheit!). Plus, according to chemists, adding water can help it taste better, too!


There's been a lot of discussion about how every dent and knock on a still will alter the spirit quality.

While this could potentially be a risk, it doesn't really seem to change much.

The distiller has a large number of variables during the process, and a small change in surface area through a couple of dents shouldn't really make an impact to the quality.


Older whiskey is always better and justifies higher prices, right? Well, to answer this question let's quickly back up and think about how whiskey gets its flavor.

Technically speaking, whiskey only takes a few days to distill and could be consumed right away. However, it would be completely clear and taste a little malted barley mixed with rubbing alcohol. Not really what we think of as whiskey.

Whiskey's classic smokey flavor and golden-brown color comes from being aged in barrels and stored in a certain type of environment. Over time, the less drinkable parts of the new whiskey are drawn to the inner barrel walls. At the same time, the wood starts to add to the overall flavor.

most things, though, more doesn't always mean better. Just because the whiskey is aged longer doesn't necessarily mean it tastes better. It could actually acquire an overpowering flavor that makes it less drinkable.

As Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller of Maker's Mark has said, «It is possible for a spirit to get too old. Sometimes older is better—but sometimes it’s just older.»


Another common myth is that moonshine causes blindness. 

Can moonshine make you go blind? Yes and no. If it's made incorrectly and/or if it's made in old lead pipes, then yes, it can lead to blindness. 


If the moonshine is not distilled properly, you could end up with high levels of methanol (methyl alcohol), which is indeed quite toxic. Our liver breaks down the methyl alcohol into formaldehyde and formic acid. And it's the formic acid that can affect our eyes. 

So, yes, when distilled improperly, moonshine with high levels of methanol can cause blindness.

Lead Poisoning

The other way that moonshine could potentially lead to blindness is by making it in something lead-based. Using lead pipes or other items ( radiators) could cause lead poisoning.

This continues to be a huge risk, even given all that we know about the dangers of lead. A recent Washington Post article reported that researchers at the CDC found «moonshine remains a source of high-dose lead exposure among adults.»

For individuals making moonshine in their homes, there are real health risks that come from improper techniques. For moonshine from larger distillers, however, there is no more risk than with other spirits.


If you have a gluten allergy, do you need to search high and low for your favorite gluten free vodka? Do you need to check with the bartender before you order that cocktail? Should you pour over that ingredient label with a fine-toothed comb?

No, not really.

Intuitively, it makes sense for GF folks to be leery of anything made with wheat. However, during the vodka distillation process, your basic ingredients (wheat, potatoes, etc.) are heated with water until they're broken down and drained into a fermented liquid, which is then run through the still.

Once the distillation process has been completed, the finished vodka doesn't have any of the gluten that it may have started with. 


It's true, better tasting vodka tends to be distilled more than once. But does distilling it more and more produce better and better-tasting vodka? Not exactly.

Each time vodka is distilled, there are fewer and fewer impurities. So, you could say that it is «cleaner» and «smoother» each time it's distilled.

However, aging whiskey for too long, you can actually over-distill vodka. The end result would be akin to pure alcohol without the sought-after taste and aroma of a quality vodka.

If a brand brags that their vodka is distilled hundreds of times, it could also be trying to mask the poor-quality materials it's derived from. A similar example is that of piping hot coffee, which can be an easy way to mask the poor taste. Both are attempts to overcompensate and hide a low quality product.

So, a high-quality vodka should be distilled an appropriate number of times. 

About Paul Hughes, OSU Fermentation Science Instructor

Paul Hughes, Ph.D., joined Oregon State University to establish a dedicated distilled spirits program. Paul holds a Master of Business Administration with a specialism in innovation and he teaches, trains and consults internationally.

He has co-authored two textbooks (one on beer, one on whisky), more than 60 peer-reviewed and conference papers and has been granted four patents.

Paul teaches the five-day Distillery Startup Workshop where attendees can learn practical tools and techniques to successfully begin and maintain their own craft distillery.


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