As one of the most widely consumed and popular alcoholic drinks consumed by adults globally, beer is synonymous with a relaxing lifestyle, whether at family gatherings or catching up with our friends and colleagues on the weekend.
In fact, this beverage has become a part of social traditions and cultures in many nations, such as beer festivals, beer-drinking competitions, beer-tasting events, and much more.
Most types of beer sold contain between 4 and 6 percent alcohol. Depending on the fermentation and types of worts, they may range from 0.5 to 40 percent.
If you’re thinking of brewing your own, you might be wondering what types of compounds are involved in the brewing process. But most importantly, does brewing beer produce methanol?
Generally speaking, methanol can be produced by brewing beer.
During a fermentation process, you will also produce ethanol, which is a harmless alcoholic compound of methanol. However, the amount of methanol produced is generally low and won’t affect your body and health. Before we dive in deeper, let’s look at what methanol is.
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What Is Methanol
Methanol is closely related to ethanol. It is also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, and wood spirit.
Methanol is also used for industrial purposes and in automotive sectors. It can be found in windshield wiper fluid, paint thinner, octane boosters, and antifreeze liquid products.
Back in the old days, methanol was extracted from distilling fermented wood. And this is why it was called “wood alcohol.” It tastes sweeter than ethanol and can be used as an artificial sweetener.
Most industrial-grade methanol is highly toxic for humans and is a cause of many cases of blindness and death. However, the methanol found in beer is not as dangerous and poisonous as the industrial ones.
How Is Methanol Produced in Beer Brewing
If you’re a budding brewer, you really don’t have to worry about methanol in your beer. The amount of methanol in homebrewed beer is pretty low and won’t cause any serious health issues.
Most beer is produced from plant products such as cereal grains, fruit flavors, and grape juice. Methanol is formed in a minimal amount by yeasts that use pectins found in fruity products during fermentation. So, it is less likely for grain beer to produce methanol.
Although methanol can be found in a fruit beer, it is extremely low in volume and similar to the amount that you can find in wine. However, you have to be careful during distillation and use the right ingredients to avoid collecting methanol in your beer. This is one of the reasons why home distillation is still illegal in most countries around the world.
What Is Methanol Poisoning
Methanol is highly poisonous to humans if consumed in a certain concentrated amount. Methanol poisoning is a rare case in the United States. However, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that this organic compound can still get into our systems. And when it does, it will metabolize in the liver and the retinas.
Unlike ethanol (which can be found in most commercial beer), our bodies can’t metabolize methanol as efficiently as it does with its counterpart. Thus, when it metabolizes and accumulates in certain parts of our bodies, such as the liver, eyes, stomach, and heart, it can become a cause for concern such as “blind drunk” and liver failure.
Aside from blindness, other common symptoms of methanol poisoning that you should be wary of are dizziness, confusion, seizures, and worse, death. Liver problems might happen when you see symptoms such as jaundice, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Breathing difficulties could also occur when methanol poisoning has affected your lungs.
If you notice any symptoms of methanol poisoning, you should go to the clinic as soon as possible. With any poisoning, the faster you receive the treatment, the better your chance of avoiding more severe complications that are irreversible.
But in most cases of methanol poisoning, patients will be rushed into the emergency room. Then, they will undergo many treatments to detect the level of poisoning before flushing this compound out of their system.
Some treatments are blood and urine tests, CT scans, activated charcoal treatment, and a tube through the nose to remove the poison. Specific antidotes will also be administered to alleviate the pain in the form of ethanol and fomepizole. In some serious cases, when most treatments fail, patients will have to undergo immediate dialysis to remove the poison from their kidneys and body systems.
Should You Be Worried About Methanol In Homebrewed Beer
In most cases, if you’re brewing your own beer at home, you won’t be producing a large amount of methanol that could harm yourself or others. Believe it or not, methanol does exist in most commercially-sold wines. But the amount of methanol has been diluted with the rest of the wine to produce an alcoholic drink that is safe for consumption.
However, if you intend to distill your beer, this is where you will run the risk of producing a large amount of methanol. Many commercial producers will heat the alcohol and remove the first part of their distilled products. Unlike ethanol and water, methanol has a much lower boiling temperature. Distilling your alcohol will also make it more concentrated. Hence, this is why not everyone is legally allowed to distill their own alcohol at home.
Overall, drinking homebrewed beer won’t be the cause of methanol poisoning. However, like any other alcoholic drink, it should be consumed moderately.
Always monitor the amount you drink and don’t drive if you feel light-headed or dizzy. The last thing you want to avoid is injuring yourself and others. You should also avoid overdrinking habits that can result in serious health issues such as liver failure, esophageal cancer, cirrhosis, stomach ulcers, gout, and many more.