The belief that there is some inherent danger in distilling one's own spirits is widespread and is reinforced whenever the news media report that a number of people have been taken ill, or even died, as a result of drinking homemade spirits. People associate "homemade spirits" with distillation, with moon-shining, but in fact there is no danger whatsoever in drinking home distilled spirits, or even moonshine properly made. The danger lies in buying liquor from a bootlegger because in order to increase his profits he may top up his moonshine with rubbing alcohol (methanol), or stove oil, or antifreeze or paint remover or any other pungent liquid he can lay his hands on. Naturally such a cocktail is poisonous, but don't be mislead into thinking that the toxicity is due to simple ignorance or lack of care on the part of the backwoods distiller. It's not. It's due to these gentlemen adulterating their booze and fobbing it off on an unsuspecting public.
Another possibility is that the moonshiner will use automobile radiators for cooling the vapours rising from his boiler, and radiators frequently contain lead soldering, so lead may get into the alcohol. Obviously there is no government supervision of a moonshiner's operation, so caveat emptor — let the buyer beware!
Our recommendation is that you never buy moonshine made in an illegal and unsupervised still, possibly adulterated with unknown chemicals. Make your own if it's legal to do so, in which case there will be no danger whatsoever to your health. This is particularly true of fractional distillation, where you have removed ALL the impurities, but also for simple distillation where you have removed at least some of them. Your equipment will be made of glass, stainless steel or copper, and if made from copper the various parts will be joined with lead-free solder. It would be similar to a Scotch whisky distillery where copper stills have been used for centuries. As for dangers in the distilling operation itself, let us follow this through. Sugar is fermented to alcohol using bakers' yeast to make a crude "beer". No danger so far, right? The beer is boiled and the vapours collected. The first liquid to come over will contain some methanol (poisonous), acetone and small amounts of other substances which were in the original beer, the so-called congeners. They smell like paint remover and will be discarded. Then comes the potable alcohol which has no smell and is collected for use. Finally there arrive the fusel oils with a somewhat unpleasant odour so they, too, are discarded. Remember, the distillation has not created anything, it has simply separated out the noxious substances from the beer — the heads and tails.
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 to put it mildly.
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