how to avoid tainted alcohol when traveling

How to Avoid Tainted Alcohol When Traveling

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The casual traveler is rarely aware of a serious problem they can encounter on their travels abroad – the problem of tainted alcohol. This is a serious issue that can sometimes lead to fatal consequences.

What is Tainted Alcohol?

Tainted alcohol generally refers to alcohol that is laced with methanol. Methanol is toxic to people, even in small doses. While methanol naturally occurs during distillation, commercial, legally-produced alcohol is generally safe because methanol is separated from the ethanol during the distillation process.

The problem arises when the alcohol is produced by illegal breweries or by home or hobby brewers.

Illegal breweries sometimes use methanol as a cheap substitute for ethanol, in an effort to maximize their profits. This liquor produced illegally – also known as bootleg, unregulated, or counterfeit alcohol – can then end up in bars, hotels, and restaurants.

Sometimes, tainted alcohol can simply be homebrewed alcohol. In some parts of the world, homebrewing liquor is very popular. This is even true in many places where distilling liquor at home is illegal. As you can imagine, there are generally minimal distillation standards involved in such situations. As a result, the methanol doesn’t get separated and removed properly from the ethanol.

Just this summer, 25 people died in Costa Rica with many more hospitalized due to alcohol tainted with methanol.

Now that you know you need to be aware of the alcohol you buy and consume on your trip, it’s time to learn how to avoid tainted alcohol when traveling.

1 – Research The Place You Are Visiting

It’s always a good idea to learn something about the place you’re visiting before you set off on your trip. You can read travelers’ reviews, and you will likely find information about the food and drinking in the area. 

Calling the resort or hotel to ask if they have a doctor or nurse on call is a good idea. Research the closest grocery stores and do similar research to see if they are linked to alcohol tainting. 

2 – Purchase Duty-Free Liquor from the Airport

It is much harder to sell tainted alcohol to the airport shops than it is to bars. Distributors of bootleg, tainted alcohol are much likelier to target bars, hotels, and restaurants than they are to target the duty-free shops of the airport. Therefore, consider buying the alcohol at the regulated duty-free shops, just before you begin your vacation. 

3 – Avoid Cheap Alcohol

Sometimes, you will be surprised by the shockingly low price of some alcohol. If it is too good to be true, then it is likely illegally-produced alcohol, with a higher risk of it being tainted alcohol. To stay on the safe side, avoid buying unusually cheap liquor. 

Instead, purchase familiar brands from licensed bars, retailers, and restaurants. Additionally, make sure to scan the label and see if there are any typos or anything that indicates a counterfeit bottle. 

4 – Mind the Taste

When traveling, try to stick to the brand with which you are familiar. If you know the taste of a drink, you are much likelier to recognize if it has an ‘off’ taste about it. If a beverage tastes ‘off,’ do not drink it. So, pay attention to the taste.

5 – Take a Drink Test with You

You can buy various tests and test trips to test the alcohol and see if it is tainted. However, a methanol testing kit is quite expensive, so it is not very practical for someone on a budget. For some tips on crude testing, you might want to read ‘How to Test If Alcohol Has Methanol.

Sometimes, the alcohol can be intentionally laced with Ketamine or GHB. Luckily, the test strips for that are much more affordable. For example, the SABRE drink test kit can test for Ketamine or GHB presence in your beverage, and it costs around $10-15. 

6 – Avoid Hard Liquor 

While there are generally small amounts of methanol in wine and beer, the amount is not enough to cause problems when wine or beer is made at home or otherwise produced illegally. So, you may want to avoid hard liquor and stick to wine and beer. 

7 – Prefer Bottled or Canned Drinks

Buying bottled or canned drinks reduces the risk of consuming tainted alcohol. Also, you can choose not to have ice cubes in your beverage to avoid potentially getting sick from potentially contaminated water that will gradually melt in your beverage. 

8 – Drink Cocktails from Bars That Allow You to See Their Preparation

Consider drinking cocktails and similar drinks only from bars that let you watch how they are made. And, you should preferably order drinks with which you are familiar. This way, you’ll know if the bartender adds any liquor or ingredient that should not be in there, and you’re much likelier to taste if anything is ‘off’ about the drink.

If You Feel Strange, Seek Medical Attention Right Away

In case you feel strange after having a drink, it’s best to seek medical attention right away. If you’re at a resort, Airbnb, or hotel, go to a hospital nearby. Ideally, take a friend or a family member with you to have someone looking out for you.

How to Avoid Tainted Alcohol When Traveling Summary

To sum up, here are our top tips for how to avoid tainted alcohol when traveling:

  1. Research The Place You Are Visiting
  2. Purchase Duty-Free Liquor from the Airport
  3. Avoid Cheap Alcohol
  4. Mind the Taste
  5. Take a Drink Test with You
  6. Avoid Hard Liquor 
  7. Prefer Bottled or Canned Drinks
  8. Drink Cocktails from Bars That Allow You to See Their Preparation

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How to Avoid Tainted Alcohol When Traveling

Featured Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash


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