The exorcism of methanol: How to properly distill liquor

By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Recently, reports have surfaced about two women who are victims of alcohol poisoning after ingesting a local gin. One woman was said to have fallen into a comatose while the other later died. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, samples of the liquor brand have been tested in their labs to determine if there are traces of methanol in the concoction. 

Methanol, also known as methane alcohol, is the simplest form of alcohol and is closely related to ethanol, a type of alcohol commonly found in beer, wine, and spirits–but much more toxic. 

Arturo “Art” Olarte, a local winemaker and owner of Vino Arsan Enterprises, said that methanol is the first alcohol that appears when distilling, a process that produces a higher alcohol content through heating the mixture and then condensing the vapors to intensify the alcohol. 

“The first alcohol that comes out of the mix is the methanol and should be discarded because it’s unsafe for people to consume, especially in large doses,” said Olarte, who is known for making local fruits into internationally recognized wine as well as other spirits like gin. 

It is known among craft brewers and distillers that there should only be 2 to 5 percent of methanol left in the final product. 

Since the initial alcohol made from distillation is discarded, the following alcohols produced which are referred to as the hearts and tails are safe for consumption and enhances the overall flavor of the drink. 

Two different kinds of purifying methods 

While distilling creates a more concentrated amount of alcohol, fermentation has a different approach to producing alcoholic beverages that many people know and love. 

“Liquors like gin, vodka, and such are called craft spirits which use the distilling method, as opposed to beer and ciders which are made through fermentation,” said Raoul Masangcay, the founder of Elias Wicked Ales and Spirits. 

As a certified distiller due to formal education and as a practicing brewer, Masangcay knows the difference between the two as well as how to properly create different kinds of alcoholic drinks. 

Opposed to distillation, fermentation uses yeast and can’t produce a higher amount of alcohol content from the sugar content of grains or fruits. 

“I actually believe that beer is safer to consume than water because it undergoes boiling and other sanitation methods to make sure that there are no unsafe chemicals in the brew,” Masangcay said. 

He also said that home brewing is safer to do because it produces safer amounts of alcohol rather than distillation, which could have hazardous effects if handled carelessly. 

Drink moderately and responsibly

Before indulging in alcoholic beverages, consumers should first check if the brand is FDA approved to determine if its contents have passed the safety requirements of the government organization. 

Masangcay also advises consumers to trust their taste buds to see if something’s off with their drink. 

“If it tastes different or off than their usual drink, then there might be something wrong with the batch their ingesting. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said. 

Warnings usually found at the end of liquor commercials always suggest people to consume the product with utmost care. Brewers and distillers alike are urging the public to follow proper precautions to avoid any incidents in the future. 

For more information, contact Vino Arsan Enterprises

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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