During the Covid lock down in South Africa there was quite a controversial ban on the sale of alcohol for a few weeks which led to many people jumping on the home brewing bandwagon.

During this time a few news reports surfaced of people falling seriously ill and even dying as a result of drinking homemade beer.

I think these articles are purposefully exaggerated, misreported, and in some cases the beer involved was spiked with something to make it more "potent" like methalated spirits or IPA.

Can I, with sheer carelessness and supermarket ingredients, make beer that's so poisonous that a sip can kill me, or that isn't putrid enough for me to consume enough to kill me? The only thing I can think of to do wrong is bad hygiene practice and not sanitize my equipment, but that would most likely just make either vinegar or something undrinkably rotten.

3 Answers 3


It is really hard to make a poisonous brew with regular, plant based ingredients. Fruit, sugar and some yeast is all you really need. The easiest is apple/grape juice, sugar and some bakers yeast. If you want to make real beer, that will involved either malt syrup, hops, water and yeast. But, unless you have homebrew shops everywhere like we do here in the USA, you won't find the ingredients to make a real beer. It's best to stick with cider and fruit wines. Just search Google on how to make hard apple cider from grocery store ingredients.

Just to emphasize, you cannot make something at home that will poison you (unless you over consume) with common supermarket ingredients.

  • Thanks. This is what I've thought. I've made my fair share of ginger beer and fruit beers even from fruits from the garden and baker's yeast.
    – ChP
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 21:11

The process of making beer is safe if you are careful with sanitation. Most bacteria contamination will be visible or smellable.

However, poisoning can occur when adding ingredients or using cleaning agents that are not safe, and might not be detectable.

Never heard of beer poisoning recently, but I know of a commercial brewery that closed in Canada because of arsenic and cobalt sulfate contamination. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dow_Breweries


Most likely the “beer” reported by those news agencies was 80 proof (40% alcohol) made in a still. Likely not even a proper still but a converted pressure cooker... to call those moonshines “beer” is almost a joke.

Home brewing is safe, but not distillation from what I read, if you don’t know what you are doing, you could end up with very critical medical conditions, even blindness, even more so with “potato vodka”

Best stay in the home brewing arena. Headaches or stomachaches can happen, with some bacteria’s but they are not common.


I think I found the article you are referring to, or at least one of them

homebrew poisonings

Note that the first couple the article refers to mentions “high-alcohol proof beer” Unless they had access to speciality “turbo” high alcohol yeast, which I deem highly unlikely in this context, their beer must have been distilled to be high proof

At the end of the second couple discussed the article mentions that local home brewers often “add high octane fluid and other chemicals to add to the euphoric effects”.... Look no further, what amazes me is that any are still alive, not that some are dead

Then it goes on and mentions wood alcohol, methanol, and it’s deadly effects.... As far as I know the only way to get methanol poisoning is with bad distillation.

Here is an article from “experts” in the field concerning this issue

Can I accidentally make methanol when home brewing beer?

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