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Craft Beer Group Speaks Up on Alleged Alcohol Poisoning Issue

Will this methanol poisoning issue affect the craft liquor industry?
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In June, a screencapped message from a certain "Margaux Romero" began circulating on social media and other messenger platforms implicating a local gin in an alleged case of methanol poisoning. Later, it was revealed the supposed gin in question is Cosmic Carabao.

Cosmic Carabao is the flagship liquor of local craft brewers Juan Brew. Originally known for its pilsners and craft brewing kits, Juan Brew introduced Cosmic Carabao in May 2018 as "an out of this world citrus-forward gin that combines the finest natural botanical ingredients from: the Philippines, Vietnam, India, and France for your pleasure." Initial reviews were positive.

After Romero's message went viral, Juan Brew issued a statement on its Facebook page on July 3: 

"Juan Brew Inc is verifying the reports and information that has come to our attention. 

We would like to emphasize that our company is dedicated to the highest standard in processing of our products and puts the health of our consumers above all. "

A week later, DJ Jess Milner was hospitalized after reportedly also drinking Cosmic Carabao. A new viral message spread like wildfire: "Stay away from ALL local craft beer and spirits. Jess Milner is currently confined in the hospital for having drank [sic] Carabao Gin. She has [sic] currently gone blind in her left eye and there are more reported cases of death upon consumption of these product. Locally crafted spirits do not go through any FDA regulations." 

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Milner posted on Facebook yesterday, July 8, how overwhelmed she was with everyone's concern. "I really don’t want to say much because it’s still under a lot of investigation. But I want to say that the doctors told me that I’m very, very lucky, considering the circumstances. I’m staying very positive about the whole situation so thank you for all the love. I love you guys very much."

Reports have already revealed that while Juan Brew does a have license to operate, its Cosmic Carabao has yet to have an approved certificate of product registration.

New allegations have also prompted the Craft Beer Association of the Philippines to react. Yesterday, July 9, the group posted their statement on social media:

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"As of July 7, craft beers were not mentioned or involved. Then suddenly July 8, with the case of Jess Milner, craft beer was added in the circulating posts. That's why we needed to respond," explains Stephen Co of local craft beer company Nipa Brew. 

Co also enlightened us regarding FDA certification. "For food manufacturers, we need to get License to Operate (LTO). Then after LTO, each packaged product should get Cert of Product Registration," he says. According to Co, each step takes six to nine months. 

Methanol Poisoning in Drinks

Detecting methanol in drinks is difficult. Methanol, according to ABC Health, is the simplest form of alcohol. It's used in items like varnishes, antifreeze, windscreen wash, even fuel. While traces can be found in everything from fruit juice to beer and gin, the amounts are usually negligible. Unfortunately, there is no visible or tangible way to detect it and its effects are much more toxic than ethanol. The article quotes Leigh Schmidtke, a senior lecturer in wine microbiology and production at Charles Sturt University, who mentions how commercial liquors and spirits have the technology to separate methanol from ethanol, but homebrewers don't usually have these facilities. 

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Throughout the years, the World Health Organization has documented methanol poisoning outbreaks caused by the consumption of adulterated counterfeit or informally produced spirit drinks. 

In its report, WHO described that "some illicitly produced drinks are made to appear legitimate through bottle design and labeling and consumers can be misled into believing they are buying a genuine brand of alcohol." These types of drinks are usually attractive to those with low incomes or tourists.

The effects of methanol poisoning can range from drowsiness and unsteadiness in the first few hours. Victims can also develop headaches, vomiting, abdominal pain, and vertigo. Vision, as in the case of Milner, may also be affected. And for the worst cases, coma, convulsions, and death from respiratory arrest. 

It's admittedly difficult to check whether the drink you're imbibing has illicit ingredients. But best to be vigilant, read the labels, check out the seals, avoid unfamiliar brands. Watch out. 

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Esquire has reached out to Juan Brew for comment. Cosmic Carabao has already been pulled out from online stores and actual shops. 

*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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