In this article, we’re going to look at how much methanol there is in Whiskey and other standard alcoholic drinks.
All fermentation will result in a small amount of methanol being produced, which can be carried through to the final product, and concentrated through distillation. Fermentations of ingredients with a high level of pectin, such as fruit wines will have the highest pectin content, and therefore distilled spirits like brandy and schnapps and tequila will have the most methanol.
Distilled alcoholic beverages have a higher concentration of alcohol in general which means they also have a higher methanol content as both are concentrated through distillation.
The table below shows some typical methanol concentrations per litre of fluid in some common alcoholic drinks.
|Type of alcohol
|Methanol Content Per Drink (Average)
|Up to 2800mg/l
|Up to 1200 mg/L
Let’s dive into some more detail as to what methanol is, and why it’s higher in some drinks rather than others?
Table of Contents
How Much Methanol Is In Whiskey?
Whiskey is a type of distilled alcohol made from malted grain, such as barley or rye. Like most alcoholic beverages, whiskey contains small amounts of methanol. Based on various sources, whiskey generally contains 4 to 5 parts per million methanol (malt whiskey) or 80–260 mg/l methanol (Scotch whiskey). At this level, the concentration of methanol is not considered dangerous, so it’s safe to consume whisky.
Where Does Methanol Come From?
As mentioned, most types of alcohol contain small amounts of methanol. The methanol found in alcoholic drinks is produced during fermentation by the hydrolysis of naturally occurring pectin, which is found in fruits. According to studies, wine can contain up to 321 mg/L, whereas beer may contain as little as 6 mg/L. The concentration is too low to cause any harm, even when you make your beer at home.
While methanol is formed in small amounts during fermentation and is safe to drink in commercially made wine or beer, the concentration found in home-brewed spirits can harm you. Spirits are alcoholic beverages made from fruits or other sugar-containing plant parts. They are made through alcoholic fermentation and distillation. It is important to note that commercially produced spirits are safer since they are created with technology that ensures methanol is isolated from ethanol. Some commercial spirits are tested for a high concentration of methanol by applying sodium dichromate to a beverage sample. In the United States, the legal limit for methanol in distilled spirits is 7g/L.
You can read more on how to avoid methanol when distilling alcohol here.
Why Is Methanol Bad?
Methanol is a type of alcohol that has the same functional group as ethanol, chemically speaking. It has the formula CH3OH. However, unlike ethanol, methanol poses several health risks.
For instance, methanol is linked to birth defects of the central nervous system. Methanol is so toxic for humans that very small amounts – as little as 10 000mg/l-are turned into formic acid, which causes the destruction of eye tissue. Exposure to formic acid is also linked to adverse health effects, such as headache, vomiting, abdominal pain, and vertigo.
This article explains exactly how methanol can lead to blindness and what you can do about it!
Is it true that distilled spirits are much worse than other fermented-only beverages like wine and cider?
Researchers found that people who mostly drank spirits had a 25% greater risk of death and a 31% higher risk of serious cardiovascular events than people who primarily drank wine. Spirits drinkers were also 48% more likely to develop liver cirrhosis.
Higher methanol content is thought to be present in some distilled spirits. As a result, there may be a greater danger to your health.
How Much Methanol Is Bad For You?
Methanol is extremely hazardous to humans. Consuming amounts of methanol of 10 000 mg/l is not good for your body as this methanol is metabolized into formic acid. Although the median lethal dose is normally 100 000 mg, 15 000 mg is possibly fatal. Methanol has a reference dosage of 0.5 mg/kg/day.
Of course, many variables influence this, including weight, age, and even alcohol tolerance. For example, in the same way, some people can become far more inebriated after drinking the same amount of alcohol as others, the same goes for methanol toxicity.
How Much Methanol Is In Different Types of Alcoholic Drinks?
Now that you know the average amount of methanol in whiskey, let’s look at the methanol content of common alcoholic drinks.
Wine is another well-known and long-established alcoholic beverage. Red wines contain more methanol, between 93 and 321 mg/l, than white wines (between 40 and 120 mg/l.
Methanol can also be found in small amounts in alcoholic beverages. Beer has been shown to have levels of 6-27 mg/l.
While vodka is most commonly associated with Russia and several Eastern European countries, it is also the most popular spirit in the United States. In the United States, vodka is a liquor manufactured from fermented grains and potatoes. Methanol concentrations in pure vodka can reach 100 mg/l; however, methanol concentrations in flavoured vodkas can reach 2000 mg/l.
Methanol is a natural by-product of tequila production, and it is in fact required by Mexican law (NOM-142-SSA1 / SCFI-2014) to contain methanol. This is because methanol is a byproduct of the pectin the agave and if it wasn’t there it wouldn’t be tequila!
The lowest amount necessary is 300 mg/L with a maximum of 3000 mg/L allowed. Tequila has a higher methanol level than most alcoholic drinks due to its pectin-rich ingredients.
These figures are quoted with reference to pure anhydrous alcohol (100% Ethanol)
Therefore, for a 40% ABV (80 Proof) bottle of tequila the maximum methanol content is 3000*.4 = 1200 mg/l. (Thanks to one of our keen readers for spotting this mistake!)
Methanol in cider is primarily derived from apple pectin breakdown. The methanol in cider ranges from 200-400 mg/l.
Brandy is a spirit prepared from wine that has been distilled. Brandy is typically consumed as a digestif after supper. The legal limit for methanol in fruit brandy in the United States is 2800 mg/l.
Gin is an alcoholic beverage made from grain that has been distilled (wheat or barley). Any Gin starts out as a neutral Spirit (typically grain-based). Neutral spirit “NGS” has a very low methanol content. Gin has 50 gm/l of methanol content.
Methanol is an organic compound that you will find in alcoholic beverages. Distilled spirits are far stronger than beer. By volume, spirits can contain more methanol than only fermented beer or wine. It’s essential to check the content of methanol for different types of alcoholic drinks you take. It’s also crucial to understand the dangers of drinking spirits rather than beer or wine.