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FW: [Distillers] reactiving carbon

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  • Ackland, Tony (CALNZAS)
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2001
      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
      problems ?

      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%

      Commercial vodka:
      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.

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