We’ll cut to the chase. When distilled properly, moonshine cannot make you go blind. However, when distilled improperly, it is possible to get what’s known as “moonshine blindness.”
Moonshine blindness was highly publicized during Prohibition to discourage people from making their own alcoholic beverages. Although it was largely propaganda, the warning was rooted in some truth.
In this article, we’ll talk about where moonshine blindness comes from and how to ensure you’re drinking quality moonshine to avoid it.
The phrase “moonshine blindness” refers to blindness occurring after people drink too much methanol. When people made their moonshine during the Prohibition era, they either didn’t know or didn’t care that methanol toxicity could lead to blindness.
So, moonshine blindness has much less to do with moonshine and more to do with the distillation process. As you can imagine, 1920s bootleggers had much less sophisticated distillation setups than today’s professional moonshine distillers.
The body can process small amounts of methanol. However, getting too much methanol can cause problems. This is what’s known as methanol toxicity. It can lead to blindness or even death.
Methanol is a naturally occurring chemical that’s found in a lot of fruits and vegetables. It is also a distillation byproduct. Beer and wine have small amounts of methanol. The low concentration of methanol isn’t concerning for home brewers.
Spirits, like moonshine, also have methanol but at higher concentrations. So, home distillers need to be mindful of dumping out the first 50 mL per 5 gallons of wash. Professional distillation processes automatically remove methanol from each batch.
In addition to wine and beer having smaller concentrations of methanol than spirits, the way methanol is introduced into the distillation process is different.
For wine and beer, methanol is spread throughout the batch evenly. In contrast, with moonshine, the methanol is concentrated in the first few milliliters coming out of the still. These first few milliliters can be potentially lethal because they have high amounts of methanol.
During Prohibition, when moonshine was becoming more and more popular, many backwoods home distillers didn’t know about methanol toxicity. So, they would inadvertently give out batches that contained enough methanol to cause toxicity and blindness.
In other cases, distillers knew but didn’t care. They would even use methanol instead of ethanol because methanol is cheaper. So, they would knowingly give people a product that potentially causes blindness.
It doesn’t take much additional methanol to cause problems. Just 10 milliliters of pure methanol can cause optic nerve damage that leads to blindness.
Now, not everyone who drank moonshine went blind. But enough people supported the story that drinking moonshine would automatically make you blind.
You might think the best way to avoid moonshine blindness is to not drink moonshine. Of course, that’s one option – but where’s the fun in that?
A better way to avoid going blind while still drinking moonshine is by only buying your moonshine from a professional distiller instead of making it yourself or buying it from a home distiller.
Illegal and unregulated spirits might contain more methanol than is safe, whether that is the distiller’s intent or not.
Do you have a friend or neighbor who keeps asking you to try their moonshine?
The best move here is to say “thanks but no thanks,” especially if the moonshiner is a DIY person who doesn’t believe in playing by the rules.
And if any moonshiner mentions adding rubbing alcohol to their batch, run. First, figure out how you can safely spill out their batch when they aren’t looking. Then run.
By now, y’all hopefully recognize the benefits of choosing a professional moonshine distiller over making it yourself or getting it from a friend.
A lot of things can be done just as well at home as by a professional. Moonshine (and spirits, in general) is not one of them. The risks of accidentally getting too much methanol are just too high. Plus, homemade moonshine never tastes as good as a professional batch.
If you want to drink some good quality moonshine that doesn’t come with a side of methanol poisoning, look no further than Tennessee Shine Co.
Our professional distillers are some of the best in the business. You’re welcome to stop on by anytime or use our handy map to find a store near you that sells our moonshine.
Featured Image: Jaime Pettry / Shutterstock
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