This video is packed with useful information about biochemistry and metabolism. I’m thinking all of my cell bio students should be able to understand it, and it puts a lot of the cell metabolism stuff they learned in an applied context — I might have to use it next time I teach the course.
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Rob Grigjanis says
Nice to know all the biochem, but three simple rules for moonshiners;
1) discard the first 50 ml of distillate for every 4 litres of wash
2) dilute distillate to no more than 80 proof
3) even without the meth, that amount in such a short time could kill you
PZ Myers says
Yeah. He drank 2 liters of 160 proof alcohol in an evening? That would kill me right there.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
A distant colleague of Mr once got a methanol poisoning at work.
Yep, they kept him drunk in the hospital for two weeks or so with little lasting damage apart from the strain on his liver and brain by the ethanol, of course.
2. Really, don’t
3. No, really, I’m serious, don’t.
Blowing yourself up is a real risk as well. If you like homemade stuff, there’s probably some possibility to have it distilled in a real distillery. My dad and grandpa did that for years.
Also, don’t drink just for the alcohol. What that group did was stupid and dangerous to start with, even without the moonshine. Alcohol kills. I’m not a teetotaller, but I’ve seen what it does. Use some weed if you just want to get high.
What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says
But it worked so well for Hawkeye….
And the Dukes of Hazzard did it .Hope he had good health insurance ?
So that’s why drinking moonshine can cause blindness. Interesting. I didn’t expect at all that the treatment would consist of baking soda and booze.
I remember an episode of House where a prisoner tried to commit suicide by drinking copier fluid (a mix of isopropanol and methanol), and House brought him back from the brink by doing shots with him to get ethanol into his system. Yes, as much as I liked that show (the first three seasons anyway), it was pretty daft.
As a chemist, I did not learn anything really new, although I did refresh some memories. When sometimes asked by my friends about how to make a moonshine properly my recommendation is always “don’t do it, it is not worth the risk”.
As not a chemist, I learned a huge heaping lot. Thank you, PZ! That was fascinating!
I thought “methanol” almost immediately. Anyone who wants to make moonshine should read a little first; five minutes of research would have let this guy avoid what happened to him. The fire risk is easily avoided by using induction. The legal risk depends on where you live; distilling your own alcohol is perfectly legal where I live.
Cat Mara says
There was a documentary on Irish TV a few years ago on making poitín, the local variety of moonshine (it was on the Irish-language channel so it was educational!) According to that, the Irish poitín makers would collect the liquid when it first emerged from the still in a glass and throw it onto the fire. From the colour of the flame, they were able to guess at the methanol content and thus know when it was safe to start collecting the output…
2,000mL of 80% ethanol equates to 125.9 standard drinks (10mg EToH/std here in Australia). Assuming an 80kg male, imbibing this in an hour leads to a BAL of 2.302. Regardless of one’s alcohol tolerance or “dilution” with methanol, waking after that is not happening—cool story, bro.
Excellent explanation of the chemistry involved though.
Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says
Turns out the Redhead’s parents moved next door to an ex-moonshiner when they moved to SC, about the time the Redhead and I married. So I heard second-hand stories. Definitely, the throw out the first of the distillate was there. But don’t go too far, as some of the flavor follows shortly. And DILUTE IT.
Turi1337 . says
I make my own cider, but i would never distill it.
We had a good chemistry teacher in school who made very clear how dangerous distilling could be. I heed her warnings to this day.
My favorite uncle on my mom’s side makes moonshine as well as homebrew; I’ve never tried the moonshine, but the homebrew is excellent, and I’ve helped him make it. (I can do just about everything at this point, except fiddle with the propane tank; I’m a-scared of it.)
I wouldn’t be afraid to drink the moonshine; he knows what he is doing. He also dilutes it, of course, and usually adds various flavoring agents.
I do infuse my own akevitt, using grain alcohol diluted by half with water. I typically use caraway, orange peel, and a few cardamom pods. It’s delicious, like Norwegian absinthe sort of.
Not being previously aware of that medical series on YouTube I want to say thanks for the pointer to such a *great* technical medical series. Unfortunately, YouTube being the dumpster that it is, I also saw an ad for a video of someone from over 800 years in the future “explaining” everything.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
I’m just going to second Giliell’s entire comment @3.
Also, ow, my liver hurts just thinking about trying to filter that much (m)ethanol.
One liter of 160 proof would kill a lot of people.
Acute alcohol poisoning is too common and it used to kill a kid every once in a while at my old university.
I never saw anyone die but I did see a few people come way too close to dying that way.
It was the 1970’s and a party school at the time.
Everyone remembers that Pennsylvania frat party that killed a guy recently. He reportedly had 18 drinks in him before he died.
I was interested in distillation, but never realized how much methanol is produced and how badly it can go wrong. It’s relatively easy to correct for the vapors so there is no combustion (never operate the still under the influence of anything!), but I don’t think I’m interested in figuring out exactly how much of the distillate to throw away to get rid of the methanol. It sounds like too much guesswork at home.
Rob Grigjanis says
methuseus @19: It’s not much methanol, and it’s easily separated from the rest of the distillate because it comes out first. For the most common washes (the fermented stuff you distill), just divide the starting volume by 100, and that’s how much you discard at the beginning. Even if you didn’t discard the methanol, moderate drinking wouldn’t harm you as long as the meth was evenly mixed in. You can learn more here.
The bloke in the video was poisoned because he drank in two hours what a moderate drinker would consume in a couple of months.