But moonshine is also made from grapes, plums or apricots (Armenia), barley (Egypt), palm tree sap (Myanmar), bananas (Uganda) and cashew fruit (India), said Kevin Kosar, author of “Moonshine: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2017).
“It’s just basic chemistry. If you can tease sugar out of something, you’re on your way to making a drink,” Kosar told Live Science.
In some cases, greed is the cause of moonshine’s toxicity. Unscrupulous manufacturers that want to increase the volume of their moonshine either don’t remove methanol or add a cheap, toxic alcohol like isopropyl, which is found in rubbing alcohol, said Kosar. Though this tactic may boost profits, it significantly raises the risk that the drink will be poisonous.
“With alarming regularity, there are stories — often coming from parts of Asia — where people go out and buy illicit alcohol, they have a party, and then hours into the party, people just start dropping and having convulsions,” Kosar said.
Even when moonshine doesn’t contain toxic levels of methanol, it’s difficult for a casual drinker to tell how strong a batch may be without testing it — an uncertainty that could lead to accidental alcohol poisoning. The best way for drinkers to stay safe is to give illicit alcohol a wide berth, Kosar said.
“Unless you’re a close friend of the person producing the moonshine and have absolute trust in their competence to produce it, don’t drink it,” he warned.