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The Deadly Side of Moonshine

The Czech Republic is issuing a ban on all alcoholic drinks with a 20% or higher alcohol content in the wake of 20 deaths

Liquor Bottles Image Credit: xlibber via Flickr

Moonshine is called rotgut for a reason. The Czech Republic is issuing a ban on all alcoholic drinks with a 20% or higher alcohol content in the wake of 20 deaths. That means anything above 40 proof is off the menu for the Czechs.

The culprit in this case is bootleg brand-name liquor. This knockoff industry is as ubiquitous as fake purses on street corners in New York City, but much more dangerous. Sold in the same packaging as the real stuff, modern bootleggers fill their bottles with cheaply produced alcohol that can, in some cases, become contaminated with methanol.

From The New York Times:

“Police officials said they believed the alcohol that was laced with methanol, a chemical used in industrial items like fuel and antifreeze, had been sold at a discount using fake labels from at least two Czech liquor makers in bottles that were not properly sealed and were labeled as vodka or other local spirits. The poisoning does not appear to have been intentional but rather a byproduct of illicit distributors trying to squeeze profits, officials said.”

Methanol poisoning is a dreadful way to go. Even if you manage to avoid death, blindness and brain damage are common in survivors. (Hence the term “blind drunk.”)

And this is hardly the first time in recent years that bootleg liquors have caused so much death and destruction. Last winter, illegally made liquor killed at least 169 people in India. In Estonia in 2001, 111 people were affected by a bad batch of alcohol.

Often the only noticeable warning sign that victims might detect is a strange taste to their cocktails. If identified soon enough, doctors can treat the condition with the drug fomepizole, but with such high stakes, it’s safe to say that the Prohibition in Prague makes sense.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Czech Beer
Prohibition’s Premier Hooch Hounds
Wayne B. Wheeler: The Man Who Turned Off the Taps

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