The ban on the sale of alcohol during the nationwide lockdown has taken its toll on many South Africans. With the two-week extension, many are turning to creative means of getting their drink on. However, making your own alcohol at home can actually be dangerous for your health.
The key issue with distilling spirits like moonshine at home is its methanol levels. Methanol is a highly flammable and toxic chemical that can be produced during fermentation by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide.
Leigh Schmidtke, a senior lecturer in wine microbiology and production at Charles Sturt University in Australia, explains that there is no safe way to differentiate methanol from its close relative ethanol at home, making it easier for a home batch to be contaminated.
Once methanol is ingested, your body metabolises the chemical into formaldehyde and formic acid which, when built up in your body, can cause serious damage to your central nervous system.
Symptoms of methanol poisoning include sleepiness, confusion, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, seizures, or coma. It can also severely affect your eyes and even cause blindness. In dire cases, it can also result in death.
In 2013, 51 people in Libya, where the sale and consumption of alcohol is outlawed, died and more than 300 others suffered from alcohol poisoning after ingesting homemade alcohol from the black market. According to Associated Press, many of the survivors went blind.
There are no known toxic microorganisms that can survive in beer but your home brewed drink can become contaminated. Contamination can easily occur at every step of the home brewing process.
Two natural causes of contamination are wild yeast and bacteria. Bacteria such as Lactic acid bacteria and Acetic acid bacteria can be found in homebrewing materials like grain, hops, additives, vessels, tubes and other brewing equipment. These bacteria are not dangerous to consume, but can affect the taste of your beer.
Signs for a contaminated batch of beer include:
– foul smell
– foaming bottle
– mold floating on top
– a bad taste that worsens over time
In 2015, 69 people died and 196 were admitted to hospital after consuming contaminated Pombe, a traditional Mozambican beer, at a funeral in Mozambique. A report from a multi-disciplinary team from the National Health Institute revealed that the beer contained the bacteria Burkholderia Gladioli, not crocodile bile as was first reported.
The safest thing to do in this case is to abstain from producing your own alcohol during the lockdown. Your stomach and liver will thank you.