Methanol is a natural ingredient with major occurrence in fruit spirits, such as apple, pear, plum or cherry spirits, but also in spirits made from coffee pulp. The compound is formed during fermentation and the following mash storage by enzymatic hydrolysis of naturally present pectins. Methanol is toxic above certain threshold levels and legal limits have been set in most jurisdictions. Therefore, the methanol content needs to be mitigated and its level must be controlled. This article will review the several factors that influence the methanol content including the pH value of the mash, the addition of various yeast and enzyme preparations, fermentation temperature, mash storage, and most importantly the raw material quality and hygiene. From all these mitigation possibilities, lowering the pH value and the use of cultured yeasts when mashing fruit substances is already common as best practice today. Also a controlled yeast fermentation at acidic pH facilitates not only reduced methanol formation, but ultimately also leads to quality benefits of the distillate. Special care has to be observed in the case of spirits made from coffee by-products which are prone to spoilage with very high methanol contents reported in past studies.
Keywords: alcoholic beverages; legal limits; methanol; quality control; risk mitigation; spirits.