Methanol poisoning in Bali

You may have heard the scary stories of people dying from tainted cocktails in Bali. Here is the low-down on how to stay safe, and what to look for if you think you may have methanol poisoning.

Methanol and Arak

Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol and is closely related to ethanol (the type of alcohol normally found in beer, wine, and spirits) – but much more toxic*. Methanol is part of any alcohol distillation process, the difference being the industrial distillers have rigid procedures and protocols to make sure no methanol ends up in the final product. So your Smirnoff isn’t going to poison you.

Problems with methanol poisoning arise a lot in countries like Thailand and Indonesia where locally brewed spirits are popular. In Bali, you may see Arak around and most of it is probably fine (brewed in Bali’s eastern region by people who know what they’re doing), but you do still hear stories about a group of locals in a village dying from a bad batch.

Drinking Arak

The fact that Arak can be risky isn’t to say it can’t be tried. Bali’s prestigious Sardine restaurant has a variety of Arak-based cocktails on their menu (they no doubt also do methanol testing on batches of the spirit they purchase). The risks lie more when you’re at a bar, and you order a Vodka soda and get an Arak soda. If a price seems too good to be true you’re probably getting the latter; and then it just takes one unlucky batch and you’re hit**.

When drinking at places that seems like it may have lax RSA standards, sticking to pre-bottled options (like beer, cider or wine) are much a safer bet.

Methanol poisoning symptoms

The scary thing with methanol poisoning is the initial symptoms aren’t that different from intoxication. You can develop mild symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication within an hour, along with nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. After 12 to 24 hours, the more significant symptoms can develop, such as a headache, dizziness, vertigo and blurred vision*. These vision problems such as blurriness or trouble looking at bright light are the real red flags. If anything feels out of the ordinary, get yourself to a hospital ASAP. A friend of The Dose got methanol poisoning and ended up being airlifted to Singapore (she was fine, luckily), so this is not something to mess around with.

Stay safe out there and keep the happy hours happy!