FW: [Distillers] reactiving carbon
- Whats missing from this emotive discussion are some facts.
It is scaremongering to pursue the line that "if you don't use carbon your
spirits are dangerous" without the evidence to back it up.
The questions we need to answer (with data) are ....
* what concentration of impurities are present in the spirit ?
* how does this change on the distilling effeciency (eg 40% potstill vs 75%
basic reflux vs 95% fractionating)
* what level of impurites is dangerous ?
* how effective is carbon at removing them ?
* how effective is basic drying at recycling the carbon ?
We are well aware that the many commercial whisky/bourbon/gin/etc do not
get cleaned by carbon. The most that some of them see is the charred
lining of the barrel (not very activated !) or a brief trickle through some
maple charcoal. Others don't even get that. But we still drink them
without concern for our health.
How dangerous are the various fusel oils ? I've got some of them listed at
The ones with toxicity data listed are ...
Methanol : usual fatal dose 100-250 mL
1-Pentanol : LD50 (rat) 3030 mg/kg
3-Pentanol : LD50 (rat) 1870 mg/kg
I'm not saying that they don't deserve respect, but these are fairly high
concentrations to do the damage. Nausea, etc will also occur much sooner
at far lower concentrations, but that level needs to be discussed relative
to what is present in our distilled spirit.
How high does the impurity concentration need to be to give us these
Does anyone have a friendly chemist about with access to a Gas Chromatograph
or suchlike ?
The data in Wheeler & Willmotts "Spirits unlimited - a complete guide to
home distilling" gives :
Home distilled spirit (untreated):
methanol 0.0067%, ethanol 99.632%, fusils 0.361%
methanol 0.013%, ethanol 99.507%, fusils 0.48%
Poor quality home distilled spirit :
methanol 0.0186%, ethanol 98.453%, and fusils 1.528%
If you're talking about untreated spirits as being dangerous, then to reach
the LD50's that are published, you'd need to consume 149 L to be affected by
the methanol, or for a 90kg bloke, about 58 L for the pentanol, from the
"good" homemade stuff. That would be one hell of a session ! Even on their
"poor quality" brew you'd need 11 L for the fusels. Stock standard
pissed-as-a-newt high-school-student alcohol poisoning is the greater
Now their home distilled spirit was at a time when their best design was
only putting out roughly 75% pure ethanol. What's the story from like a
Nixon-Stone or Euro doing 95%+ purity ?
Now compare those levels with what's sold in commercially available spirits.
At http://wwwchem.uwimona.edu.jm:1104/lectures/sugar.html Robert Lancashire
has a table comparing jamaican rum and american bourbon (aged 0 and 3
years). He reports
Fusel oils : 48-66 g/100L and 250-298 g/100L respectively. Pretty high hugh
? Depends on what you're drinking.
If the argument is that the carbon performance degrades each time its being
recycled, the question is "by how much" What is the reduction in "carrying
capacity" that occurs on each successive regeneration ?
I agree that we should be trying to make the highest quality spirit that we
can, but my personal opinion is that this is tempered by what our individual
pallets demand. The danger is fairly much urban legend stuff (and should
remain that way until data proves it otherwise) for spirit distilled by a
competent distiller (hobby or commercial).
To tout the line that "non-carbon'd spirits are dangerous" flies in the face
of many centuries of pot distillation of grain spirits etc.
The greater effort should be in ensuring that any heads that are distilled
off are collected in sufficient volume, and then discarded, to reduce the
concentrations of impurities present. Its a simple rule, that is equally
applied between pot/reflux/fractionating stills, that will give us the
greatest leverage for safety.