Will home-distilled alcohol make me go blind ? Not if you're carefull. This pervasive question is due to moonshine lore, which abounds with myths of blindness, but few actual documented cases. The concern is due to the presence of methanol (wood alcohol), an optic nerve poison, which can be present in small amounts when fermenting grains or fruits high in pectin. This methanol comes off first from the still, so it is easily segregated and discarded.
A simple rule of thumb for this is to throw away the first 50 mL (reflux still) you collect (per 20 L mash used), or 100-200 mL from a pot still.

!! There is no safe way of denaturing methylated spirits. !!

The other impurities, which form the tails (known as cogeners or fusel oils) are quite a complex collection, but mostly just smell/taste bad rather than are actually unsafe towards you.

Basic Safety Guidelines when Distilling

  • Don't distill in a closed room. Try and keep some through-draught (eg both a window and door open)
  • If your still leaks (liquid or steam) - fix it instead of using it
  • Collect the alcohol securely - dont put yourself in a position where its easy to knock over the collection vessel etc, or bump the tube out of it. This means having enough space to work in, well lit, tidy.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher with you (and on your side of whatever is going to catch fire)
  • If using electrical heating, have an RCD on the line (residual current device - a fancy circuit breaker)
  • Check your still with water-only the first time you use it, to make sure your condensor is up to the job. You dont want vapour coming out of the collection tube.
  • Be sober - its not a time to be making drunken mistakes.
  • Pay attention to the still - check it regularly (cooling water still flowing, no leaks, collecting nicely, all temperatures OK)
  • Do the maths - don't boil the still dry
  • Make sure the outlet tube is free flowing - not crimped or blocked in any way.
  • Make sure the still design is such that you can't pressurise the still - it should always be able to vent somehow to atmosphere. There shouldn't be valves such that you can fully close the column off
  • Don't smoke - you dont want ignition sources around a liquid as flamable as gasoline

    Other Safety links

    Ethanol Toxicity
    Will I Go Blind ?
    Denatured Methanol
    Avoiding Hangovers     This page last modified Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:51:05 -0800