Can this moonshine be saved?
March 12, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Is my moonshine safe to drink?

While renting a house in Appalachia recently, I bought a quart of moonshine in a mason jar from one of the local neighbors. This is what I know:
  • The neighbor ("Bob") claims he bought it from a friend who has made it for years from corn.
  • Bob had clearly been sampling his product when he came by, and I watched him drink more.
  • Not knowing anything about moonshine, I drank a 2 oz. shot. It tasted great -- sweet and smooth.
  • A few of my friends also had shots with no ill effects. One of my friends drank 3 shots.
  • After the initial sampling, Bob left to get more to sell, so the quart I bought is unsampled. It looks and smells identical to what I sampled, however.
So after all this, a friend explained how moonshine can blind and kill you. Yikes! I had no idea. So should I drink this stuff or use it to clean drains?
posted by Shoggoth to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Naturally the state and Federal governments try to stop illegal production of alcohol, in part to ensure that liquor is safe as well as taxed. Back in the days when car radiators were used to condense the vaporized alcohol into liquid phase, enough lead might end up in the moonshine to blind or kill the final consumer.

Assuming it wasn't made in a car radiator or some other lead-lined container, it's probably fine. And now that it's quasi-legal, it was probably made in something a little less cobbled together.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:03 AM on March 12, 2009

If Bob's not dead or blind by now I would assume the moonshine is fine to drink responsibly - i.e. don't chug the whole quart in one sitting.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: your friend is misinformed. i would suggest reading the section entitled "will i go blind?" over at the r home distille.
posted by phil at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2009

googling moonshine and poisoning suggests there are risks of lead poisoning over the longer term.
posted by canoehead at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2009

If you are looking for 'moonshine + poisoning' in Google, you are going to find it. Stick to the local here - if Bob is drinking it, its ok.

You should be much more concerned about drinking too much and getting alcohol poisoning. That stuff is smooth and dangerous.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 9:23 AM on March 12, 2009

Don't drink this.

Yes, it's probably safe, but it's sketchy enough that I'm not sure why to bother unless you *had* to drink it. Chalk up the money spent to a fun experience and go buy a bottle of something at the liquor store.

Sigh... I guess I'm officially old. Sorry to be a literal buzzkill.
posted by KAS at 9:29 AM on March 12, 2009

It's not the lead that's dangerous, it's the methanol. But since other people have drunk it (drank it?) and they are not sick and/or blind, your jar is probably OK.
posted by GuyZero at 9:32 AM on March 12, 2009

That it's sweet and smooth - not harsh - suggests that some care was taken in the preparation. Me, I'd drink it.
posted by notsnot at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2009

it's sweet is it? did you know lead used to be added to wine to sweeten it?
posted by canoehead at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2009

I saw a whole program on moonshine and how the police are trying to stop it.

Some moonshine is made with old car radiators and other very toxic things.

Would you really want to take the change of ingesting so mething that could contain anti -freeze or lead?

So you could be drinking anti freeze also. Its not worth the risk
posted by majortom1981 at 9:44 AM on March 12, 2009

Are you really so poor that you're willing to risk your body (however small the risk is) to save a few bucks? I wouldn't take the chance. If you want a good drink, splurge on a nice bottle of hooch instead.
posted by Simon Barclay at 9:47 AM on March 12, 2009

* [...] bottle of hooch from a liquor store instead.
posted by Simon Barclay at 9:48 AM on March 12, 2009

Ah, Appalachia.

Drink it.
posted by rokusan at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

The link that phil provided has a lot of good information. It takes a lot more methanol to blind you than you'd find in a quart of poorly made moonshine. However, methanol is broken down in your body a lot slower than ethanol so it can build up over time if you're regularly drinking a lot of the stuff.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:40 AM on March 12, 2009

@phil: Reading that link gives methanol/ethanol minimum boiling points as 64.7C/78.5C. It also mentions how double and triple distilling with head&tail pour off gets rid of methanol and the other nasties.

So a second distillation with a careful temperature hold at ~70-75C would drive off a fair bit of remaining methanol, right? Seems like something that some people might have done themselves at home, right? As already said, the smooth taste is a sign that the distiller already controls his temperatures and head/tail removal pretty well, case in point the other batch.

FINAL WIMPY DISCLAIMER: But then again, what the hell do I know? Don't drink it!
posted by buzzv at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2009

Greg Nog: My answer: Humans been makin' this stuff for thousands of years, man, live a little.

No, they haven't. Distillation has been around less than a millenium.

I'd drink it - sparingly, and not all at once. But let's not make wild-assed claims to support what is, essentially, a risky guess.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:49 AM on March 12, 2009

A lifetime ago some "cityfied" friends of mine assumed since I came from the foothills of Tennessee I could procure a little moonshine for them. Not wanting to disappoint them, nor let a quick buck escape my hand, I mixed Everclear and a little cheap schnapps in mason jars. It was very good money while the novelty lasted.

If you paid more than the price of cheap booze, it might just be mixed from the liquor store. If you paid significantly less, then it might be home brewed.

I know my story doesn't answer your question, but you can decide on your own comfortable risk level, and how you want your new friends to perceive you.
posted by Classic Diner at 10:50 AM on March 12, 2009

Tell "Bob" you're really curious and you'd love to see the friend's still and hear about how he makes it. Also, figure out some way to prove you're not a revenooer. But by all means, go see the equipment and judge for yourself.

If it were me, I'd drink it. Who needs the hassle of moonshining unless they're into it enough to do it right?
posted by rusty at 12:03 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have drunk a whole lot of moonshine in my life. I have drunk stuff passed around a campfire that I don't even know where it came from. I have drunk cherry moonshine, plain old moonshine, shine with raspberries, shine in mason jars, 3 year old shine with 3 year old figs in it (out of tiny little cut crystal glasses, yet) and I am not dead yet. Neither am I blind. I have lived in and around Appalachia most of my adult life. I know no one who has ever gotten anything but a hangover - some doozies there, though - from moonshine.

Relax and enjoy.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

By law only the SAQ can sell ethanol, but I don't think you're supposed to actually drink Alcool (otherwise known as everclear, or whatever). I think it's for cleaning paintbrushes and wounds and stuff.

yeah, ok, or for making huge tubs of we used to call "batch"
posted by GuyZero at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2009

I know this probably makes me a dork, but I'd probably ask a chemist friend to test for methanol content.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2009

Count me in for having taken moonshine from a mason jar before. Ours was root beer flavored - wicked good! I've also had the jamaican equivalent, overproof white rum in a hand-labeled bottle, that claimed to be somewhere in the 180 proof range. THAT will make you blind, with or without actual methanol poisoning. Wowza, I think I can still taste it...
posted by FatherDagon at 3:03 PM on March 12, 2009

Potassium permanganate test for methanol
posted by hortense at 5:53 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One last note before marking this resolved:

Thanks to all who not only provided information but who also suggested I live a little. After taking everything into account, I've been occasionally enjoying my moonshine in moderation every other week or so (just a two-ounce shot). So far, I am happy to report that I am neither dead nor blind.
posted by Shoggoth at 7:21 AM on April 14, 2009

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