Can I drink it without dying?
June 2, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Will the super-potent alcohol I bought in Mexico for $15 kill me if I try to drink it? More info and transcription of the entire label inside.

It's 96% alcohol by volume (that's one of the parts of the label I can understand). It was being sold at numerous liquor stores and even pharmacies. What I don't understand is, how can such potent alcohol be so cheap? Is it safe to drink? Or am I gambling with my life here?

Note: I am *not* looking for people to tell me that alcohol that cheap can't be safe. I'm looking for actual information from people that know what it is, why it's so cheap, and who have drunk it and lived to tell about it (or knew those who didn't). Thanks!


96% Alc. Vol. G.L. a 15º C
Cont. Neto al envasar 1 L.

Alcohol Puro de Caña Etilico
***** "A G"



TELS. 3606-0952 3606-1002 3606-0950
R.F.C. AGU-960531 E10
REG No. 01509C3000 S.S.A.


posted by kingjoeshmoe to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds similar to Everclear to me. You'll want to be very sparing with it, is all -- it's very potent.

It says it's "pure cane" so maybe sugarcane -- like rum, I think? Made in Guadalajara -- the address is the plant, I think. Also that it's flammable and that it needs to stay out of the eyes (ojos) and away from children (ninos). Don't sell to minors under 18.

I'm very pleased that I could pick all that up, but maybe someone has a better translation.
posted by sugarfish at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2007

"No debe beberse" means "it should not be drunk."
posted by grouse at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's "denaturalized" rubbing alcohol. Don't drink it. External use only. Or burn it as fuel.
posted by paulsc at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2007

posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:40 AM on June 2, 2007

Sounds like you got a Mexican version of Everclear.
posted by 4ster at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2007

It's probably a mexican variety of Rectified Spirit.

I've had the Polish variety in 35ml shot form, which in retrospect was slightly silly. It effectively evaporated in my mouth as I drank it, then I felt absolutely boiling hot. I am still alive.
posted by knapah at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2007

Curse my slow typing, but Cat Pie Hurts has it.
posted by 4ster at 10:43 AM on June 2, 2007

I should have previewed before posting.

Follow grouse, paulsc and Cat Pie Hurts advice and don't drink it.
posted by knapah at 10:43 AM on June 2, 2007

It's "denaturalized" rubbing alcohol.

The label actually says it is "without denaturation." I still wouldn't drink it. I'm guessing that whatever process they use to produce it is not certified as being safe for human consumption so there might be some nasty impurities in there.
posted by grouse at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2007

Note that anyone who is actually trying to translate this is going to end up with the same conclusion as Cat Pie Hurts. This is not edible alcohol.

Also note that $15 for a liter of drinking alcohol isn't *that* cheap. You can get a 750ml bottle of 190 proof (95%) Everclear for around that price on sale, if you look around. If you really want to drink nearly pure alcohol, that is.
posted by mikeh at 10:48 AM on June 2, 2007

The label says:

Flammable product. Avoid contact with the eyes and do not leave within reach of children. Do not leave open. Do not drink. Do not sell to those under 18. Made in Mexico.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2007

Doesn't "SIN DESNATURALIZAR" mean that it isn't "denatured"? (Denaturing, in the US at least, means adding enough toxic stuff like methyl alcohol to make it impossible to drink safely. Dunno if Mexico has the same system, since I think it's a Prohibition holdover here.)

But since "NO DEBE BEBERSE" presumably translates as "do not drink" or "not for drinking", this is probably the Mexican equivalent of rubbing alcohol or lamp-fuel alcohol (despite being ethanol instead of isopropanol), and in that case drinking it is probably a bad idea. It's possible that it is perfectly potable but not "food-grade", but I think that's a big risk to take with your health. Read the link above on methanol poisoning.

(On preview: What they all said.)
posted by hattifattener at 10:54 AM on June 2, 2007

It's called rectified spirit and is as safe as the manufacturing process used to distill it.

The important part is this: "ALCOHOL ETILICO SIN DESNATURALIZAR PURO DE CAÑA", which means the ethanol is not denatured, and is made from distilling fermented sugar cane.

If it was denatured, they would have added chemicals, carcinogens like benzene, to make it undrinkable (and to help keep the ethanol highly pure, by reducing the ability of the ethanol to suck water out of the air).

As far as how much to drink, well, that's up to you and your liver. Use two-and-a-half 80 proof drinks as a rough volumetric guideline.

Keep the bottle closed or it will, as mentioned, suck water out of the air and dilute itself.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 AM on June 2, 2007

Hmm. So the "Do Not Drink" isn't a good sign. But why would they sell this stuff at a liquor store, dammit?!
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2007

Well, maybe if you drink it and tell us what happens, you'll get featured on the podcast.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2007

But why would they sell this stuff at a liquor store, dammit?!

Because corrupt Third World nations like Mexico have no effective consumer protection agencies (See Chinese toothpaste).
posted by frogan at 11:14 AM on June 2, 2007

But why would they sell this stuff at a liquor store, dammit?!

I bet that "NO DEBE BEBERSE" doesn't stop some people who can't afford a more expensive product, so the liquor store is just filling that niche.
posted by grouse at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2007

kingjoeshmoe, I should be clear about my biases here. I am assuming that a warning printed on a Mexican bottle stating "Do Not Drink" has significantly more import that the same statement printed on a U.S. bottle due to the FDA, BATF and the whole US nannystate mentality. If Mexicans won't drink it, Americans really shouldn't.

That said, if it's just ethanol, a little -probably- won't kill you (but I am NOT an organic chemist, so if you drink it and get sick and/or die, it's your own sense of adventure/questioning of the unknown/stupidity that will be to blame and not me.)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2007

I agree with grouse; it could also just be a big CYA, much like mine above.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:18 AM on June 2, 2007

After re-reading, I realize that I big assumption; namely the fact that you purchased it in Mexico. SOrry for that.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2007

Huh. Well, no one ever go drinking in Mexico with me!

I still stand by my assertion that Everclear is very potent. A pint of that will liquor up a garbage can full of fruit punch and sliced oranges.
posted by sugarfish at 11:32 AM on June 2, 2007

I may have had this many years ago. Back in the 80's it was popular among my friends to pop down to TJ for a day and come back with a few bottles of "de Caña" to make jungle juice with. It was available in liquor stores, as potent as Everclear (which was unavailable in California) and insanely cheap. In hindsight, this stuff seems disturbingly similar.

I never read the label so I can't say for sure if it was intended for human consumption. I can say, having tried drinking it straight, that it was foul; I would have been hard pressed to call it "potable". I did not die, though, nor did my friends (who drank it a few times a year, probably)... although one or two of them did go on to become lawyers, so take from that what you will.
posted by stefanie at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2007

I thought I remembered seeing a similar 'do not drink' statement on everclear. a google image search turned up this picture of a bottle, so I wasn't that far off.

Maybe the 'do not drink' means 'do not drink by itself'?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Popping back in to retract my answer above about this being denaturalized product. Sorry for my error.

I think it is industrial ethanol (from sugar cane), in high concentration, with perhaps 4% residuals, mostly water probably, as getting 100% alcohol is an expensive process, usually done with a final gelatin stage in processing. Everclear, in contrast is grain alcohol (ethanol) in high concentration (made from the same stuff as whiskey), although chemically, ethanol is ethanol. I don't think it's intended for human consumption, and the facility producing it is probably not inspected for producing products for human consumption, but I don't think you'd keel over dead from drinking small amounts. Dilute it 1:1 with water to get something near normal vodka range of proof. I doubt it will have much taste, or that what taste it has, if any, will be pleasant. I don't advise, however, at all, that you try this, since what is the point of drinking something that won't taste great, and isn't recommended for human consumption?

As to why something like this might be sold in a liquor store, its major "intentional" use would, I think, be as a flambe fuel or cooking agent, where it will burn off quickly in baking and sauteing, and light easily, in producing "flaming dish" presentations. And perhaps, for use as a spirit base in making flavoring extracts at home, like vanilla or almond extract. But practically? Sure, cheap liquor, for those that are primarily price sensitive.
posted by paulsc at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2007

An interesting fact about alcohol is that an ethanol/water dilution by itself can never be distilled beyond 96% alcohol/4% water. There's an azeotrope at that point. Distillation works by evaporating some of the mixture out, recondensing it, and so on, so at any point the liquid and vapor parts have different compositions. At an azeotrope, the liquid and vapor have the same composition, so re-condensing it doesn't yield liquid with more ethanol.

Yet many labs use 99.99% ethanol. This is made possible by the addition of a third substance, benzene, to allow the removal of more water. Benzene is a carcinogen, so you should never EVER drink alcohol that is above 96% ethanol.

As others have said, the label says don't drink it. It's probably meant more for cooking or sterilization or flame-breathing stunts, not consumption.
posted by liesbyomission at 12:25 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

As I read the label, it's "Non-denatured ethanol, from pure sugar cane. Do not drink." In other words it's industrial-grade ethanol.

One example reason for its non-potability would be that it was distilled in a still that used lead pipes or lead solder joins, and therefore has trace amounts of lead in it. Other ethanols have trace amounts of benzenes or phenol compounds in them due to the way they were dehydrated (it's hard to get alcohol to 96% purity just by distillation, because it forms an azeotrope with water.)

It's probably drinkable the way Everclear is - you wouldn't necessarily taste the impurities - but because there's no easy way to tell if it has these contaminants in it, I think I'd suggest going along with the label and not drinking it.

One reason drinkable alcohol is more expensive in the US is that it's taxed pretty heavily, on both the Federal and State level. The liquor tax in Puerto Rico is $32 per gallon.

As far as I know, to avoid the Federal excise tax on ethanol it has to be denatured - just plastering "DO NOT DRINK" on the label isn't sufficient - but that may be different in Mexico. I don't know, maybe someone who does could chime in.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe the 'do not drink' means 'do not drink by itself'?

No. verb + -se has several meanings; the most commons are "is done to itself" and "a group of X do to each other" but it can also be used for passive voice. In this case, no debe beberse is literally "it should not be drunk."
posted by Tuwa at 12:49 PM on June 2, 2007

Hmm. So, I'd be gambling with my life maybe, but not by much, if I drank this stuff. Thanks guys. I probably won't drink it anytime soon, but I'm not throwing it out, either.

Oh, and Stefanie, don't worry, I'm safe. I'm *already* a lawyer.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:30 PM on June 2, 2007

I'll note most industrial ethanol is made with (petrochemical derived) ethylene as the feedstock: it is cheaper and produces purer alcohol than distillation easily can. It is illegal to sell this for drinking in the US because, well, mainly to protect the distilling industry, and likewise when sold for solvent use etc. it is denatured, i.e. toxic additives are used. There is no practical reason you couldn't drink it otherwise, and if we lived in some sort of libertarian free market paradise you probably would (hey, it's British Petroleums "Old Cracking Tower 8," beloved of desolate bums!). It can be used in personal care products, though.

I also suspect that the reason your Mexican Cane Liquor is labeled not for consumption is because it is manufactured by processes that do not meet the regulations for the production of potable alcohol in Mexico, which is also part of why it is so cheap. I wouldn't drink it. My cynical reasoning for why it is sold in liquor stores is that it would likely be a popular choice of catastrophic alcoholics, who have been known, after all, to drink straight mouthwash and crudely filtered Lysol for the industrial ethanol content therein.
posted by nanojath at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2007

Purely anecdotal evidence here, I know, but a friend of mine bought a bottle of sugar cane moonshine in the village when we were in Africa. He got incredibly drunk on it one night, mixing it with warm cokes and fantas, but had persistent and troubling gastrointestinal problems (ulcers, nausea, diarrhea) for several weeks to months following his encounter with the stuff.

Of course, that could have been from various number of African parasitic nasties, but he was convinced that the liquor was the primary cause. I told him not to drink it - the strange brew came in a old, scratched coke bottle, after all.
posted by i less than three nsima at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2007

I'm not recommending you drink it, however, if you want to purify whatever it is you actually have there, *brita filter it.
posted by acro at 3:46 PM on June 2, 2007

Liquor Filter commodity equivalent to a brita
posted by acro at 3:55 PM on June 2, 2007

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posted by acro at 4:05 PM on June 2, 2007

An activated carbon filter (such as a Brita filter) will not clean out all sorts of nasty things such as lead or ammonia.

If something is unsafe to drink, a Brita filter will not make it safe. It might make it taste better, but it won't make it safe.
posted by grouse at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2007

In the spirit of MeFi, you should only attempt to drink it if you suspect that it is so old as to be undrinkable.
posted by The Deej at 7:58 PM on June 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

You have no idea if its ethenaol or methenanol. A wrong guess means you're going to go blind. Wiki entry for alcohol here. Considering it says do not drink Im guessing its meth.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:33 PM on June 2, 2007

From 'denatured alcohol' "It is not the methanol itself that is toxic, but the accumulation of its metabolites, formaldehyde and formic acid. Because the metabolic pathways for ethanol and methanol share a common enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, ethanol can be used to treat methanol poisoning by blocking the enzyme until the body can excrete enough methanol through the lungs and skin. (In a documented case, a shipworker poisoned while cleaning out a methanol tank was successfully treated with administration of a good portion of the liquor in the ship's "medicine chest."[2])"

If you choose to drink your moonshine, keep a bottle of Bacardi 151 nearby and do matching shots.
posted by acro at 8:50 PM on June 2, 2007

Etilico means ethanol, incidentally, it is not methanol if the label is accurate, methanol anyway is not distilled from cane (and what have you been drinking, damn dirty ape? Ethenaol? Methenanol? "Meth?").

I still wouldn't drink it. I still think Cat Pie Hurts is on to something: when the Mexican bottle tells you "do not drink," do not drink. It's not like enough cheap booze to knock you on your ass is hard to come by.
posted by nanojath at 9:59 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mexican here. I'd use that to clean up a scratch or a scraped knee. Do not drink it. Only a mentally ill hobo would drink that stuff.

I have no idea why you found that in a liquor store. Where did you buy it? Could you describe the bottle? Is it a white translucent plastic bottle with blue or red letters? Those are the traditional bottles for rubbing alcohol.

My rubbing alcohol bottle has the same warnings, it is 70% ethilic alcohol.
posted by clearlydemon at 12:09 AM on June 4, 2007

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