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Old 10-29-2010, 12:52 AM   #1
Micycle
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Default Methanol and Ethanol

Not exactly homebrew related, but I figured someone here might know something about this; I was wondering where methanol comes from and why distillers would be worried when we aren't. In distillation the "heads and tails" are tossed out to avoid methanol, which is created by the fermentation process(?). Say if two people were to drink the same amount of alcohol, one drinking distilled clean ethanol liquor and the other drinking a much larger amount of homebrew, wouldn't the homebrew drinker be drinking all of that methanol that the distiller was so worried about getting out of their product?

Just curious, and before anyone gets upset about this, I'm not asking about any distillation process, just a thought that popped to mind for educational purposes only.

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Old 10-29-2010, 01:03 AM   #2
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I think it's concentration.

So let's make it simple let's say you have homebrew and there are 10 parts of methanol. If it was distiller there would still be that 10 parts however it's no longer in that large volume but rather condensed into about 1/10th (or whatever the condensing rate is) of liquid.


I think

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Old 10-29-2010, 01:09 AM   #3
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I don't know anything about distilling really but my logic would tell me the same as kunstler is saying. Methanol has a lower boiling point that ethanol so think about the concentration of the "heads" it is basically all the methanol that would have been diluted in the fermented wort. But before boiling it is so diluted in the large volume of the water and other alcohols its probably harmless (I hope). In addition methanol and ethanol have way lower boiling points than water so if you think about it in beer you have both alcohols heavily diluted with water but in distilling you basically have close to no water (I think, like I said I have very little knowledge of distilling).

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Old 10-29-2010, 01:42 AM   #4
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Methanol is only dangerous if consumed alone. It will bind with ethanol and be peed out when you drink any kind of homebrew. It takes aprox 4 oz of methanol to kill a grown man and as little as 1 oz to cause permanent blindness. But, like I said, you're fine drinking homebrew with small amounts of it since the ethanol is by far superior.

The danger comes in distilling. Not that i'm trying to explain the process, but basically methanol boils off at a lower temp than ethanol. If you had a large amount of mash (say you had enough to produce 5 gallons of finished product) then the first liter or so might be almost pure methanol if you don't control your temp correctly. So, here is the lethality of methanol. I'm sure you can imagine the dangers of a bottle of methanol since it tastes fairly similar to ethanol. I'd assume it got it's reputation with homebrew in the prohibition era.

If you're wanting to make it, it comes from a type of fermented wood. Hence it's nickname, wood alcohol. Then again, you could just buy some antifreeze.

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Old 10-29-2010, 02:31 AM   #5
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A well made beer doesn't really have much MeOH (Methanol) in it. Distillers don't want to boil away a lot of extra water, so their wort starting gravities are much higher than most beer. I don't remember the number, but after you get above something like 14% EtOH in your fermenting wort the yeast get stressed out and start making more MeOH than they do when they are happy. Again I can't remember the exact details, but one of the better Scotches is specifically made from lower proof beer so that it has less fusels.

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Old 10-29-2010, 03:03 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Micycle View Post
Not exactly homebrew related, but I figured someone here might know something about this; I was wondering where methanol comes from and why distillers would be worried when we aren't. In distillation the "heads and tails" are tossed out to avoid methanol, which is created by the fermentation process(?). Say if two people were to drink the same amount of alcohol, one drinking distilled clean ethanol liquor and the other drinking a much larger amount of homebrew, wouldn't the homebrew drinker be drinking all of that methanol that the distiller was so worried about getting out of their product?

Just curious, and before anyone gets upset about this, I'm not asking about any distillation process, just a thought that popped to mind for educational purposes only.

All fermentations create some methanol. As was already stated above, in beer or wine the concentration is quite dilute, however, when brandy is made from wine or whiskey from beer that fraction of methanol becomes much more concentrated as most of the diluting water is left behind during the process. Yes you are drinking some methanol when drinking beer, homebrew or commercial, but it's not enough to be worried about. Don't forget that ethanol is also toxic just a lot less than methanol. BTW the methanol in spirits is not removed in the heads and tails but for further information you will have to find another place to ask such questions.
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Old 10-29-2010, 07:44 AM   #7
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I just stick to drinking homebrewed beers and stay away from anything with meth at the beginning.

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Old 10-29-2010, 12:13 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JebCkr View Post
Methanol is only dangerous if consumed alone. It will bind with ethanol and be peed out when you drink any kind of homebrew. It takes aprox 4 oz of methanol to kill a grown man and as little as 1 oz to cause permanent blindness. But, like I said, you're fine drinking homebrew with small amounts of it since the ethanol is by far superior.

The danger comes in distilling. Not that i'm trying to explain the process, but basically methanol boils off at a lower temp than ethanol. If you had a large amount of mash (say you had enough to produce 5 gallons of finished product) then the first liter or so might be almost pure methanol if you don't control your temp correctly. So, here is the lethality of methanol. I'm sure you can imagine the dangers of a bottle of methanol since it tastes fairly similar to ethanol. I'd assume it got it's reputation with homebrew in the prohibition era.
Close. Methanol in of itself is not particularly toxic, it is the metabolites (or the chemicals that are created as your body breaks it down, (these include formate and formaldehyde), that are. When you consume ethanol at the same time, the ethanol competes with the methanol for the enzyme which drives this metabolism and slows the relative production of these byproducts, instead leaving the byproducts of ethanol metabolism (including acetaldehyde which is less dangerous but is still considered a carcinogen).

An interesting side note, a great deal of the hillbillies that went blind during prohibition were as a result of trying to distill the ethanol out of denatured alcohol (ethanol to which methanol was intentionally added to make it undrinkable). It was not usually a result of naturally occurring methanol from the mash. Interesting that the US government ended up killing 10,000 of its own citizens by adding methanol to all industrial alcohols during prohibition in order to prove a point.

http://www.slate.com/id/2245188
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Old 10-29-2010, 03:31 PM   #9
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All sounds pretty good, and is giving me a better idea of how it all works together. So I suppose at the heart of the matter the reason they would get rid of it in distilling is just because it's not much trouble at all to do so and is probably better in the long run? Or am I wrong in assuming that a gallon of beer and a the distillate of a gallon of beer (including both methanol and ethanol) would have about the same ratio of methanol to ethanol? I know it's concentrating the methanol, but if it's concentrating the ethanol at the same rate, you're going to have the same amount of each in an equal amount of alcohol (not a pint of each) from beer or liquor, right?

And again, this is for informational purposes only, to settle an argument between a couple folks. I'm not advocating distilling at home, just trying to learn something; home distilling is illegal, I don't think education is just yet. If anyone has any other sources of information about this they could recommend please let me know. Also, moderators, if this is getting into too much of a legal gray area for your comfort please let me know.

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Old 10-29-2010, 10:06 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Micycle View Post
Or am I wrong in assuming that a gallon of beer and a the distillate of a gallon of beer (including both methanol and ethanol) would have about the same ratio of methanol to ethanol?
Yes, you would be wrong. The methanol does not make it to the finished product in a distilled spirit. Due to the serendipity-like laws of physics as related to certain alcohols CH3OH boils at a lower temperature than C2H5OH and is thus eliminated before the ethanol appears.
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