How safe is home-made alcohol in Vietnam?

Home-made alcohol being sold at a market in Hanoi - Tuoi Tre
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Three expats have shared their thoughts on home-made alcohol in Vietnam, including “rượu gạo” (rice wine), after several cases of poisoning have been reported as a result of drinking the methanol-tainted alcohol.

On the morning of March 9, nine college students, including two women, began to develop symptoms of poisoning, after hosting a party the night before with 1.5 liters of unlabeled alcohol.

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Earlier, a foreigner had been admitted to Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi after drinking alcohol from two local eateries, with doctors suspecting methanol poisoning as the main culprit.

A questionable drink

I haven’t tried home-made alcohol and wouldn’t drink it. On the news a while ago in India, people were poisoned and died after drinking their own home-made alcohol.

Harvard Chong

How would you know that your home-made drink is drinkable? Are there any tests conducted before drinking it? Is there an approved neutral vendor to test this type of alcohol and give a certificate to assure that it is drinkable?

I understand why foreigners would not drink such a drink. There could be health impacts that are irreversible. I believe producers should have some kind of license to produce alcohol for the masses.

I don’t think the government can do anything in this. Vietnam is a big country. Unless the government announces a ban on home-made alcohol, I don’t see how the government can control or police it.

Solving this problem would mean educating people to understand that home-made alcohol has no quality control standard. If there’s no demand for home-made alcohol, there won’t be a supply of it.

I haven’t heard of home-made alcohol for sale in Singapore. Everything here is tightly managed by the government.

The legal drinking age in Singapore is 18 and you can only buy alcohol in licensed premises. Normally if you look too young, shop owners or service staff will ask you to show your identity card to verify that you are 18 or above. If you are below 18, they will not sell alcohol to you. It is against the law.

Restaurants, bars and convenience shops have to have a liquor license before they can sell alcohol. These places need to apply for a liquor license from the government and if the government grants them the license, then they will be issued a liquor license and allowed to sell alcohol. If you do not have a liquor license, it is illegal to sell alcohol.

All convenience shops and supermarkets stop selling alcohol at 10:30 pm until 7:00 am the next morning. You are only able to purchase alcohol after 10:30 pm – 7:00 am at bars or restaurants and you have to drink at these places. Public drinking from 10:30 pm to 7:00 am is banned throughout Singapore. That means you can’t drink at road sides, in parks, in open spaces, bus stops, etc.

Harvard Chong, Singaporean

Like ‘cà phê sữa đá’ with no real coffee

I only drink rice wine with my wife’s relatives when I am outside of the city. It is very strong, so I don’t drink too much. I don’t worry about methanol when drinking in these places. I think rice wine is a great part of the Vietnamese food culture. It’s been made for over a thousand years. If you know where it comes from, it should be ok.

Methanol in rice wine is like “cà phê sữa đá” (Saigonese’s signature ice coffee with milk) with no real coffee. I think the authorities are doing a good job punishing those that don’t follow the regulations. When others see that there are strict penalties, they should stop.

There are rules in my country about home-made alcohol, but it depends on the state and in some places it is illegal. Generally non-distilled spirits (less than 20% alcohol) are less regulated than distilled spirits (often much higher). Making stronger alcohol is more dangerous and typically requires permits to ensure that the alcohol content is clean and consistent.

In the U.S. you have to be 21 to buy alcohol, and the laws on selling depend on the state you are in. There are laws in Vietnam to keep children under 18 from buying alcohol. I think that is a better age to allow drinking.

Jordan Howard, American

Heavy fine

I’ve drunk rice wine with Vietnamese men before. Sometimes it came in unlabeled bottles so perhaps it was home-made but I never asked who made it or where it came from. It was okay, but I don’t like to drink this stuff much.

Robert Ackley

Many foreigners avoid it because they don’t know exactly where it came from or how strong it is because the percentage can vary from bottle to bottle. Some of my friends and I will sometimes accept an offer to drink rice wine with locals but oftentimes we politely decline because we understand that if you sit down then it is almost certain that these guys will want to drink way more than one shot.

For that reason, it’s something you have to be careful about. You don’t want to be impolite but you also don’t want to get drunk in a bad way.

I have heard several stories about this kind of dangerous, fake alcohol. There was a similar story a while back with a foreigner who died in Saigon after drinking in the Pham Ngu Lao area. Also in this case, the cause of death was methanol poisoning.

The answer to the problem would be to fine these companies more heavily and also inspect them more often. In the case of foreigners getting sick from methanol drunk at bars, well, that is the fault of the bars and not the big producers.

The bars either buy the cheapest liquor possible or make it using the cheapest production method they can. They are running a risk there because obviously low prices come with poor quality.

Home-made alcohol is a thing in America but it’s not really a problem. Some people make beer, cider or even liquor at home but usually it’s just for themselves or maybe some friends. Like anything in America, if you start selling a lot of something without a permit then you could get caught. Since people usually drink it themselves though, they most likely produce something of decent quality.

Purchasing alcohol is strictly regulated. You must be 21 and there really aren’t any exceptions. In some states they check IDs less often but it’s a big risk for stores or bars to sell to minors because if they get caught they may be forced to close for one week and they’ll get hit with a very heavy fine.

Police often do undercover operations to try to catch liquor stores selling to minors. It’s crazy, they do this with cigarettes too. Vietnam must have some law about purchasing alcohol but I bet it’s not enforced.

Robert Ackley, American

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