People have been brewing alcohol at home for over 7,000 years, from the Egyptian through the Greek and Roman eras. In fact, mass production of brewed beverages only came about with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.
Distilling alcohol without a license is illegal in most countries. However, many countries allow for the non-commercial brewing of a limited quantity of beer, wine, and mead in a process commonly known as homebrewing. While homebrewing is a hobby for many people across the globe, it is primarily carried out by poor people in developing nations as a cheap alternative to buying commercial alcohol, not to mention it is often stronger.
Legality of Homebrewing
In most European countries, making beer and wine for personal use is legal. A limit per household per year is in place in many countries, excluding Poland and the UK. Distilling at home is illegal in most countries in Europe, and across the globe. However, the Czech Republic allows citizens to distil a limited quantity for personal use at a local distillery, while New Zealand allows for the legal distilling and homebrewing of liquor, wine and beer for personal use.
Wine and beer can be made at home legally in most parts of Canada and the US, depending on individual provincial and state laws. South Africa has no limits on the quantity of beer that can be brewed at home. Homebrewing is illegal in Malaysia and Iran. Other Asian countries, such as Singapore and Japan, allow for a limited quantity of beer to be brewed, but distillation is illegal.
Where Homemade Alcohol is Most Commonly Found
In developed nations, homebrewing as a hobby allows the brewer the freedom to experiment and manipulate flavors. However, making alcohol at home in developing nations is mostly carried out by the disadvantaged, who primarily wish to make a saving on the cost of commercial alcohol.
Beer and wine are among the most commonly brewed beverages, but regional specialties such as chichi in South America, sake in Japan, lao khao in Thailand and Laos, and kvass in Eastern and Central Europe exist.
Due to the ease with which homemade alcohol can be produced, it is also widely found in prisons across the globe, and in many countries is accepted as a part of prison culture.
How Homemade Alcohol is Produced
Homemade alcohol can be made using most fruits and vegetables, with everything from grape wine to banana beer possible. There are various methods for producing homemade alcohol. Most methods involve creating a fruit or vegetable mash using a press. This mash is then boiled along with sugar and water, and left to cool. Yeast is then added and the mixture left to sit for anywhere from a day to a few weeks. Once the mixture has stopped fermenting, it is ready to run in a still, after which time it can be consumed or left to age or flavor further.
Dangers of Homemade Alcohol
Inexperienced brewers are at risk of unknowingly using harmful ingredients in their homebrews. Such harmful ingredients can be lethal or cause blindness to those that drink them. Persons at the highest risk of sickness through drinking unregulated homemade alcohol are those in developing nations who are unable to afford alcohol that has been monitored for its quality.
In Kenya, there have been reported deaths related to the lead poisoning of drinkers of the locally brewed changaa, whose name incidentally translates as kill me quick. Makers of this beverage and other homemade alcoholic drinks around the world often add high-octane fuel or other chemicals to the mix to increase their euphoric effects. These ingredients, however, can cause death or irreparable damage to the drinker’s vital organs. Another killer, wood alcohol, also known as methanol, can be highly toxic, causing death or blindness through damage to the optic nerve among drinkers.