Hidden Hazard in Alcoholic Beverages

Baliseafoodlab.com, Methanol content in commercial alcoholic beverages.

Alcoholic beverages are widely consumed throughout the world. There are many reasons why people drink alcohol. Nowadays, many alcohol producers have changed natural fermentation method with synthetic alcohol in order to get alcohol in short time. Replacement with alcohol synthetic on alcohol drinks often causing poisoning to consumers, because found that ethanol replaced with methanol or methyl alcohol.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a commonly used organic solvent that, because of its toxicity, can cause metabolic acidosis, neurologic sequelae, and even death, when ingested. This research used test kits Alert for Methanol from Neogen Corporation. The samples tested were outstanding commercial alcoholic beverages in Denpasar, Bali, i.e vodka, whisky, arak, wine and beer. On testing methanol in the samples above,  a positive sample is vodka with brand A, which in fact is a reputable brand. It shows that a possibility of brand falsification, a possibility that vodka brand A is truly containing methanol, and it turns out that, there is methanol in alcoholic beverages circulating in the market. Effect of  methanol addition to ethanol is not easily detected by consumers, because the sensory characteristics unchanged. It is advisable to stick with trusted brands and places



Alcoholic beverages are widely consumed throughout the world. The last data from World Health Organization (WHO) on Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011, mentioned that worldwide per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages in 2005 equaled 6.13 litres of pure alcohol consumed by every person aged 15 years or older. It is including unrecorded alcohol consumption (i.e home made and illegally produced alcohol), which refers to alcohol that is not taxed and is outside the usual system of governmental control.

This volume of consumption raise a question, for what reasons do people drink alcohol?  Research has shown that the number one answer to this question is what people probably expect, socialization. Many people drink as their way to fit in with others. It often boosts their confidence and helps reduce stresses they may usually have in a social setting. The other reason are because they like the taste and because they want to relax, or feel at ease. To get a buzz or to simply to “get drunk” are the next reasons many people like to drink.

Methanol is often misused as a liquor-making materials. It is used as a substitute for ethanol because both of its relatively low price and lack of understanding about the dangers. Many people think that the nature and function of methanol is same.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a commonly used organic solvent that, because of its toxicity, can cause metabolic acidosis, neurologic sequelae, and even death, when ingested. It is a constituent of many commercially available industrial solvents and of poorly adulterated alcoholic beverages. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Therefore, we want to examine whether there is a content of methanol in alcoholic beverages on the market, which is potentially harmful to health.



This research used test kits Alert for Methanol from Neogen Corporation. Alert for Methanol is a screening tool for the rapid detection of potentially harmful methanol contamination in spirits, beers and wine. It is a 10 minutes color change field test which can detect methanol levels as low as 0.35% v/v.

The samples tested were outstanding commercial alcoholic beverages in Denpasar, Bali, i.e vodka, whisky, arak, wine and beer.




Methanol Test Result

Vodka Brand A


Whisky Brand A


Arak Brand B


Arak (Illegally produced)


Wine Brand C


Beer Brand D




Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). Methanol acquired the name “wood alcohol” because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. Modern methanol is produced in a catalytic industrial process directly from carbon monoxidecarbon dioxide, and hydrogen.


Chemical structure of formaldehyde

Methanol is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, that of ethanol (drinking alcohol). At room temperature, it is a polar liquid, and is used as an antifreezesolventfuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol. It is also used for producing biodiesel via transesterification reaction.

Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in small amounts in the environment. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapor in the atmosphere. Over the course of several days, atmospheric methanol is oxidized with the help of sunlight to carbon dioxide and water.
Methanol burns in oxygen including open air, forming carbon dioxide and water:
2 CH3OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 4 H2O

Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism.

Upon ingestion, methanol is quickly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and metabolized in the liver. In the first step of degradation, methanol is transformed into formaldehyde via the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). This reaction is slower than the next step, the transformation of formaldehyde into formic acid via the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase. This may explain the reason for the latency of symptoms between ingestion and effect. The half-life of formaldehyde is estimated to be 1-2 minutes.
Formic acid is further oxidized to carbon dioxide and water in the presence of tetrahydrofolate. The metabolism of formic acid is very slow; thus, formic acid often accumulates in the body, which results in metabolic acidosis. Complications of the methanol is vision loss and movement disorders.

 Image  Image

Vodka testing (positive result) and whisky testing (as an example of negative result)

On testing methanol in the samples above,  a positive sample is vodka with brand A, which in fact is a reputable brand. It shows that:

  • A possibility of brand falsification
  • A possibility that vodka brand A is truly containing methanol
  • Turns out that, there is methanol in alcoholic beverages circulating in the market.

Methanol on vodka case also has occurred in the UK.  The Public Analyst for Bridgend County Borough Council Trading Standards (Minton Treharne and Davies Ltd) received a sample of “1806 Christoff Vodka 100% Pure Grain” sampled from a local public house for authenticity. Analysis revealed it to contain 32.9 %ABV against a declared content of 37.5%ABV and 0.75% methanol.
The Food Standards Agency has stated that levels of methanol in vodka should not exceed 0.05% (0.5g/L) on safety ground. Furthermore, there is a maximum prescribed level for methanol in vodka prescribed by The Spirit Drinks Regulations of 50g/hectolitre (0.05%) at 100%vol. This “Vodka” contained significantly higher methanol levels and has the potential to cause harm to any member of the public who consumes it.
After investigation, it turns out this vodka is produced by the illegal bottling plant. It appears that the “Vodka” is not a fermented and distilled spirit but processed industrial alcohol.
In Indonesia, alcoholic beverages are regulated in the Decree of President of the Republic of Indonesia No. 3 Year 1997 titled Supervision and Control of Alcoholic Beverages. In Article 4 paragraph 1 and 2, it was mentioned that the production of alcoholic beverages must meet quality standards set by the Ministry of Health.
According to National Standard of Indonesia (Standar Nasional Indonesia –SNI) 7388: 2009, for Maximum Limit of Microbe Contaminant in Food, the quality requirements for alcoholic beverages, including likely-free alcohol or low alcohol beverages are Total Plate Count 2×102 col/ml, Coliform (MPN) 20/ml, Escherichia coli <3/ml,  Salmonella spp. negative/25 ml, Staphylococcus aureus negative/ml and Yeast and Mold 1×102 col/ml. There are no words that mention methanol, it means that no written words that mention the prohibition of using this item in the alcoholic beverages. We encourage the concerned bodies to include this in the standard.
Why industry using methanol in their product? This question can be answered from various sides:

  • This addition of methanol exempts industrial ethanol (commonly known as “denatured alcohol” or “methylated spirit”) from liquorexcise taxation in the USA and some other countries.
  • The price is cheap
  • Methanol is a traditional denaturant for ethanol, the product being known as “denatured alcohol” or “methylated spirit”. Effect of addition to ethanol is not easily detected by consumers, because the sensory characteristics unchanged.

Methanol is added in small amounts (~5%) to ethanol (alcohol) to make Industrial Methylated Spirit (IMS) or ‘meths’. The addition of methanol renders the product unsuitable for human consumption.

Drinking even small amounts of methanol is dangerous and can cause serious health effects including coma, convulsions, and blindness and may even cause death. Methanol is also toxic by inhalation; deliberately inhaling methanol is dangerous, can permanently damage eyesight and could cause death. Methanol is an irritant and splashing it in the eyes could cause stinging, though this should not lead to permanent damage.

Methanol is cheap. It is widely used in formulations including antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, shellacs, various paints, paint removers, varnishes, duplicating fluids, and petrol additives.
Fatalities have been reported after ingestion of 15 ml or 3 teaspoons of a 40 per cent solution, although 30 ml is generally considered a minimal lethal dose. With aggressive medical care it is possible to survive the ingestion of 500-600ml.
However, consumption of as little as 10ml may cause blindness, depending on the amount and individual tolerance.

There are so many people who do not know the dangers of consumption of methanol as described above. It can be seen from the number of cases of deadly methanol poisonings in the world, among others:

  • In India, more than 170 people have died in the past week from methanol poisoning in the state of West Bengal.
  • In October, a New Zealand man died in Bali after drinking a single methanol-laced cocktail.
  • During the same week, a young nurse from the NSW city of Newcastle nurse suffered suspected brain damage and kidney failure after drinking a toxic drink containing methanol while holidaying on Lombok.
  • In Ecuador, methanol killed at least 48 people and injured 500 – some left blinded – in August this year.
  • In May, 5 Russian tourists died in the Turkish port city of Bodrum after drinking local bootleg whiskey while on a sailing trip.
  • A methanol-laced homemade gin known as waragi killed 100 people in Uganda last year.

For the consumer of alcoholic beverages, it helps  if you follow the suggestion below:

    • Stick with brands and places you trust

Advice to consumers  is to stick to bottled drinks or only consume mixed drinks and cocktails from bars located within hotels that belong to internationally recognised chains. There are many reasons not to trust our luck with methanol:

        • We can’t tell if methanol is present. It’s clear, colourless, and with a similar odour to ethanol (alcohol), it’s completely undetectable.
        • We don’t know if you’ll have a mild reaction or a severe one. As little as 10ml (2 teaspoons) can leave you blind, while 15ml of 40% solution is enough to kill you (although 30ml is generally considered the minimal lethal dose).
        • Methanol sneaks up on us. There is not the same euphoria you feel from regular alcohol and drinking methanol with regular alcohol delays the appearance of symptoms (although their absence does not exclude serious toxicity). Adverse symptoms can appear in as little as 6 hours, but the usual latent period is 12-24 hours.
        • The symptoms can be confusing. You may get a headache, feel dizzy, lethargic and confused  symptoms easily mistaken for typical inebriation. Coma and convulsions appear in more severe cases, probably as a result of cerebral oedema.
        • Rapid medical care is vital to avoid severe complications. People seriously affected can lose consciousness and die of respiratory or heart failure, while others can linger in a coma and may be left blinded or brain damaged. In many developing countries effective medical care may simply not be available and medical evacuation may come too late.


    • Choose your venues carefully

We have heard and reported on other cases of poisoning by home-made alcohol – and not only in Southeast Asia.
Wherever we are, we need to choose bars carefully and be observant at large-scale events like Full Moon or beach parties. At best, free or cheap drinks are likely to contain poor quality ingredients; at worst they will contain illegal and dangerous ones like methanol.
Young travellers, in particular, should not be tempted to prove themselves by drinking arak. Indeed, avoid all home-made alcoholic drinks, because even small amounts of methanol poisoning can cause severe illness or death.
Wherever it is made, a local brew is almost certain to be stronger than travellers are used to – especially young travellers. Getting very drunk or sick could put you at risk of a serious injury, a violent attack, sexual assault, or robbery.
Given the complexity of alcohol’s effects on the body and the complexity of the people who drink it, blanket recommendations about alcohol are out of the question. Because each of us has unique personal and family histories, alcohol offers each person a different spectrum of benefits and risks. Whether or not to drink alcohol, especially for “medicinal purposes,” requires careful balancing of these benefits and risks.
Our health-care provider should be able to help us do this.  Our overall health and risks for alcohol-associated conditions should factor into the equation. If  you are thin, physically active, don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet, and have no family history of heart disease, drinking alcohol won’t add much to decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you don’t drink, there’s no need to start. You can get similar benefits with exercise (beginning to exercise if you don’t already or boosting the intensity and duration of your activity) or healthier eating. If you are a man with no history of alcoholism who is at moderate to high risk for heart disease, a daily alcoholic drink could reduce that risk. Moderate drinking might be especially beneficial if you have low HDL that just won’t budge upward with diet and exercise.
If you are a woman with no history of alcoholism who is at moderate to high risk for heart disease, the possible benefits of a daily drink must be balanced against the small increase in risk of breast cancer.
If you already drink alcohol or plan to begin, keep it moderate—no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women. And make sure you get plenty of folate, at least 600 micrograms a day.
Harmful use of alcohol is related to many diseases and health conditions, including chronic diseases such as alcohol dependence, cancer and liver cirrhosis, and acute health problems such as injuries.


Keputusan Presiden Republik Indonesia Nomor 3 Tahun 1997 tentang Pengawasan dan Pengendalian Minuman Beralkohol.
Standar Nasional Indonesia SNI 7388: 2009 Batas maksimum cemaran mikroba dalam pangan

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