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Is It Safe to Drink Moonshine?

Headline Health editor personally conducts field research into the matter, and Grandpa Jones weighs in

LIVE SCIENCE – A glass of clear moonshine may look identical to water, but this illicit alcoholic beverage is infamous for its potency, and for the peril associated with drinking it.

What is moonshine? Broadly, moonshine is any type of distilled liquor that’s manufactured without government oversight, though some argue that moonshine can be labeled as such only when it is made with certain ingredients or comes from specific geographic regions, experts told Live Science.

People all over the world make and drink moonshine, particularly in places where alcohol is illegal or where legal alcohol is prohibitively expensive or hard to get. But producing spirits can be a tricky chemical process; manufacturers’ mistakes, ignorance or shortcuts can yield a highly toxic product.

So, how does that happen, and how can you tell if a glass of moonshine is safe?

Alcohol in moonshine and other intoxicating drinks comes from fruits or grains that are fermented — that is, they are exposed to yeasts or bacteria that convert sugar molecules to carbon dioxide and alcohol.

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Ingredients for moonshine vary widely depending on what’s available. In the early 20th century, American moonshiners typically made their brews from corn mash; in fact, legal versions of traditional American moonshine are commercially produced today by craft distilleries in the United States.

“It’s just basic chemistry. If you can tease sugar out of something, you’re on your way to making a drink,” Kosar told Live Science.

Potent potables

Fermentation produces two forms of alcohol: ethanol and methanol, which is also known as wood alcohol. Methanol is released from pectin, and is therefore more abundant in fermented fruit, according to research published by the American Chemical Society.

Though ethanol is generally considered safe for drinking, both ethanol and methanol suppress the central nervous system and inhibit brain function.

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Consuming too much alcohol — even the “safe” kind — can cause alcohol poisoning, affecting heart rate and breathing and even leading to coma and death, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Methanol is far more dangerous than ethanol, said Anne Andrews, a professor of psychiatry, chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. In the human body, methanol is converted to formaldehyde — the same substance in embalming fluid — and then to formic acid, which is highly toxic to cells, Andrews told Live Science.

“It interferes with their mitochondria, and actually causes cells to suffocate,” Andrews said … Click here to read more. 

Headline Health editor personally conducts field research into the matter [do not attempt]

Your editor had the opportunity to look into this matter personally while attending a tailgate party at a professional sporting event in a state well known for moonshine production.

The mason jar was being passed around and when it came into my hands … well, you know, when in Rome! Though the ‘shine did pack a powerful punch, this one-sip experience did not produce any unintended consequences.

Having marked this one off on my bucket list, it’s not something I’d do again. I’d simply say I’d already had some [true, though it was a few years back] and I was all set. Accepting unlicensed likker from a total stranger is not a gamble I want to take more than once; strictly from a health perspective, I’d have been safer not doing it at all. Still … YOLO!

Mountain Dew – Song by Grandpa Jones

There’s a big holler tree down the road here from me
Where you lay down a dollar or two
Well you go round the bend and when you come back again
There’s a jug full of good ole mountain dew

Oh they call it that ole mountain dew
And them that refuse it are few
I’ll shut up my mug if you fill up my jug
With some good ole mountain dew

Now my uncle Nort, he’s sawed off and short
He measures about four foot two
But he thinks he’s a giant when you give him a pint
Of that good ole mountain dew

Well my ole aunt Jill bought some brand new perfume
It had such a sweet smellin’ pew
But to her surprise when she had it analyzed
It was nothin’ but good ole mountain dew

Well the preacher rolled by with his head heisted high
Said his wife had been down with the flu
And he thought that I ought just to sell him a quart
Of that good ole mountain dew

Well my brother Bill’s got a still on the hill
Where he runs of a gallon or two
Now the buzzards in the sky get so drunk, they can’t fly
From smellin’ the good ole mountain dew

Oh they call it that ole mountain dew
And them that refuse it are few
I’ll shut up my mug if you fill up my jug
With some good ole mountain dew

Old Mountain Dew – Grandpa Jones – An American Original

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