Health and Safety

One of the claims made by certain people when the subject of amateur distillation of alcohol is raised is that, if permitted, people would be liable to poison themselves. Specifically, there would be the danger of going blind. Examples of this having happened to individuals or even whole communities in various countries around the world are cited. But when specifics are asked for it is all very reminiscent of the Indian Rope Trick — everyone has heard about it but no-one has actually seen it.

The fact of the matter is that it would be virtually impossible to poison oneself by drinking home-distilled spirits. As mentioned before, distillation does not produce anything so there can be nothing in a distilled spirit which was not already in the original beer. How can one convert a harmless beverage into a lethal one simply by boiling it? Of course, beer does contain poisons --- methanol and fusel oils for example --- but their only harmful effect is to produce the headaches and hangovers which people experience when they over-indulge.

Distillation separates these congeners, permitting them to be discarded. They smell like paint remover. So, to poison oneself, it would be necessary to remove the congeners from the beer by distillation, pour the purified alcohol down the drain and then, ignoring the pungent smell and sickening taste, drink the paint remover. This is about as likely as plucking a chicken, throwing away the meat and eating the feathers. It strains credulity.

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