The story argues that methanol is likely the result of home distillation.
But what the young tourists were experiencing was far from a hangover. They’d consumed a toxic cocktail laced with methanol hidden in their drink.
Without taste or smell, the young travellers had no idea what they’d been served at the bar.
Methanol, while closely related to ethanol (which is found in wine, beer and quality spirits) is far more toxic and can be found in drinks made from home-distilled spirits.
Commercially made spirits are safe to consume because manufacturers use technologies specifically designed to ensure methanol is separated from the ethanol that goes into the bottles we purchase.
Home brew systems, however, makes separation more difficult meaning methanol can be mixed in with the ethanol.
I understand that there can be methanol in the first flush from a distillation run, that it’s easily separated and tossed out. But if you’re bottling off the still and not doing that, well, there could be problems. And while every distiller should know to toss the fores, well, things get messy in illicit markets where they’re also happy to throw other dodgy stuff into the brews.
There are tons of stories out there on methanol poisoning in Bali. Story seems to be that high alcohol taxes lead to informal untaxed markets that have other dodginess. I don’t know whether it’s adulterated product or really poor practice in illicit distillation; either way, I’m really not keen on going to Indonesia.
I expect that part of the problem is if it takes a long time to know you’re poisoned, and if people bar-hop, and if the mess is idiosyncratic to particular bottles at particular outlets, it’ll be hard to tell whose fault anything is.
And I wonder whether anyone’s responded to the problem by investing heavily in brand – “Yeah, drinks at our resort are $2 instead of $1, but we have secure supply chains and test our supplies regularly.” But it’s harder to build that kind of a brand in a tourist market with lots of one-off transactions.