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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Deadly batch of home brewed grappa

From left:  Joel Lynam, Bryan Wilmot, Joshua Lynam and Vincent Summers

Joel Lynam, 21, and Bryan Wilmot 30 have died and two others are in a critical condition after drinking a home brew called grappa. Bill Lynam, a bush mechanic who brews his own diesel and alcohol, has already lost one son and might lose another.  

On Saturday night Joel was brought home to his father's house by friends, put under the shower and left in bed.  Next morning, his father found him dead.  When Bill rang police, they started a frantic search for the other three men and found they too were in urgent need of medical attention, but it was too late for Bryan Wilmot who later died in hospital. Joshua Lynam and Vincent Summers are in a critical condition in Brisbane hospital.

This is a terrible tragedy for Bill Lynam, who lost his wife to brain cancer last Easter.  They live in a wine producing area and locals say there is a tradition of making grappa from left-over grape skins.

The men are believed to have methanol poisoning.  Methanol occurs naturally at a low level in most alcoholic drinks without causing harm but drinks laced with methanol can kill you. 

Nineteen year old Perth man Liam Davies died earlier this year after drinking cocktails laced with methanol off the coast of Lombok and Rugby payer Michael Denton died in Bali in September 2011. 

Methanol is found in antifreeze, copy machine fluids, fuel additives, paint remover and thinners, Shellac, varnish, windscreen wiper fluid etc.

But you can also get methanol poisoning by distilling your own alcohol. Professor Paul Haber,  head of the Drug and Alcohol Services at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney said that distilling alcohol is a very complex process and much more risky than home brewed beer.

"The backyard still involves fermentation, which generates a large range of biological products" he said. "Then there's a distillation process that is supposed to separate the alcohol and certain other chemicals and concentrate the alcohol component.  The risk is that if the distillation process is not done correctly, the wrong products will be extracted.  The key toxic product that can be distilled in that way is methanol."  Apparently it's hard to taste and smell and when ingested, it turns into formaldehyde.

The Italian community in Australia have been making their own wines safely, including grappa, for a very long time.  Something went terribly wrong in this tragic case.