Ancient stone pottery jars discovered in the village of Jiahu in the Henan province of northern China revealed that intentionally fermented beverages existed as early as the Neolithic period, which proves something that many of us already knew: people have always liked enjoying a cocktail, or two. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States. This makes excessive alcohol use the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for the nation.
“Everything in moderation; nothing in excess.” Socrates is typically credited with this nugget of wisdom, and for the past 2,500 years, when it comes to alcohol consumption, parents, college administrators, government officials, and beer and liquor advertisers have echoed the philosopher’s democratic warning. However, some types of alcohol defy the idea of moderation, and they’re designed with a chemical makeup and toxicity level geared solely for a quick and easily realized altered state. Whether culturally strange or lethally potent, these 7 alcohols have a history or reputation for being particularly dangerous.
7. Scorpion Vodka
First consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty, Scorpion Vodka is triple distilled and infused with an edible, farm-raised Heterometrus Spinifer scorpion. The scorpion steeps in the alcohol for several months, imparting a unique flavor into the liquor. In Southeast Asia, Scorpion Vodka is considered an aphrodisiac. Traditional Chinese medicine claims the drink has therapeutic qualities and is often use to treat pain. Whether or not Scorpion Vodka is really any more dangerous than popular vodka brands like Absolut or Ketel One remains to be seen, but, visually speaking, seeing a full-length scorpion preserved in a liquor bottle is probably enough to make anyone question the beverage’s safety. However, scorpions aren’t the only creatures submerged in liquor bottles in China. Snake, lizard, and mouse wines are also popular.
6. Liquid Cocaine and Other Potent Mixed Drinks
Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear.
Mixing different types of alcohol can be a recipe for disaster, and even if it’s done with some level of moderation and self-control, it can leave one with a thundering, “I’ll Never Drink Again” headache the following day. However, mixing different types of hard alcohols in order to create one brutally potent drink is dangerous and ill advised. With names like Liquid Cocaine, The Four Horseman, Headhunter, and New Orleans Hand Grenade, these drinks are designed for one thing and one thing only: a stomach pump.
5. Seagull Wine
Journalist Suzanne Donahue had this to say about drinking seagull wine: “If you opened up a Toyota’s carburetor and drank the leftover fluid from inside, that would be pretty close. It goes down hard and settles in even worse. But I must say it sure gets people inebriated in a hurry. And the next day’s hangover is nothing short of spectacular. You’ll feel like you’ve been repeatedly beaten over the head by a giant…well, seagull.”
Invented by the Eskimos to keep warm through the cold arctic winters, seagull wine is miles ahead of other strange and dangerous alcoholic drinks. Eskimos make the potent elixir by chopping up a seagull, putting the pieces in a bottle, filling the bottle with cold water, and leaving it in the sun until the concoction ferments. While there’s no chance of finding the Inuit beverage on a drinks list at the local bar, it doesn’t take an FDA official to foresee the danger of developing Hepatitis A from drinking seagull wine.
Bottled at 151-proof and 190-proof, Everclear is a brand name of rectified spirit sold by American Spirits company Luxco. Processed out of mashed maize, the pure grain alcohol is unflavored and colorless; in other words, Everclear is moonshine created in a controlled and sanitary environment. Many states in the U.S. have banned Everclear outright, while others have made it illegal to buy “full-strength” Everclear. It’s uncommon to see the product anywhere outside of America. The overall scarcity of the drink, however, has led to its cult-like appeal. Mixed drinks using Everclear include Instant Death, Lucifer’s Lane, Devil’s Pis*, and Killer Kool-Aid.
According to one French critic:
“Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.”
No alcoholic drink has a greater or more exaggerated mythology than the “green fairy.” Absinthe originated in 18th Switzerland, but rose to prominence in 19th and early 20th century France, where it became associated with bohemian café culture. Served with or without a sugar cube dilutant, it was the favorite drink of poets and artists. From French Symbolists Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud to post-impressionists painters like Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh, absinthe was the drink of choice -inspiration and vision in a bottle.
Absinthe is prepared from the leaves and flowers of Artemisia absinthium (grand wormwood) as well as sweet fennel, green anise, and 22 other medicinal herbs and spices. Thujone, a chemical compound found in wormwood, is believed to be a psychoactive drug, hence absinthe’s reputation as being both dangerously addictive and an inspiration-inducing “green fairy.” By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and most of Europe.
Following the adoption of modern European Union food and beverage laws, and with big distilleries looking to market the drink’s mythology and artistic pedigree, the 1990s saw an absinthe revival. Today, there are over 200 brands of absinthe being produced in France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and USA. Refined and thujone-free, however, the absinthe being made or served in bars today has little in common with the mind-altering cocktail produced in the 19th and early 20th century.
2. Four Loko
Nicknamed alcopop and dubbed “badness in a can” by Harvard University Health Services, Four Loko briefly captured the hearts (and livers) of America’s youth, making headlines from 2007 to 2010. In fact, Four Loko’s dizzying rise and meteoric crash seems to echo the malt-liquor-based beverage’s effects. Four Loko contained up to 12.5 percent alcohol, the equivalent of five cups of coffee, and came in eight fruity flavors, before maker Phusion Products bowed to intense pressure from Food and Drug Administration, colleges, and other institutions, and removed the caffeine and other stimulants from the drink due to a string of incidents and hospitalizations.
The caffeine in Four Loko masked the beverage’s alcoholic effects, leading consumers to drink more than they normally would, and longer than they would normally be able to in an inebriated state. College kids were getting sick, but the dangers that Four Loko posed were nothing new; since the introduction of the caffeine-heavy drink Red Bull, revelers have been mixing it with vodka (Vod-Bomb), rum, tequila, and schnapps.
Four Loko no longer contains caffeine, but it still comes in eight fruity flavors. However, without the potent double whammy of alcohol and a stimulant, chances are rappers won’t be glorifying the sweet drink like they did back in the day: “I know Jesus turned water into wine / But he woulda’ turned it to Four Loko at a party of mine.”
Hooch. White lightning. Popskull. Bathtub gin. Panther’s breath. There are numerous slang terms used to describe moonshine, the clear, potent, high-proof liquor distilled from fermented corn mash and made illegally. The word moonshine is derived from moonrakers, a term used to describe smugglers and the clandestine operations of illegal Appalachian distillers, men who operated under the cover of darkness with only the light of the moon. When made properly, moonshine isn’t any more dangerous than other types of hard alcohol; the same ingredients used in making moonshine are used in producing whisky. However, moonshine isn’t aged, and that’s what gives the homemade liquor its white lightning bite.
The whole point of making moonshine is to escape laws, taxes, and FDA regulations. The careful maintenance of sanitary conditions isn’t normally considered, and there’s nobody to ensure that the ingredients going into moonshine are safe. In fact, the idea of drinking bad moonshine and going blind or becoming paralyzed isn’t a backwoods urban legend, as thousands of people died drinking moonshine that had been produced using methanol, lye, formaldehyde, and paint thinner during Prohibition (1920-1933).
The danger of moonshine or bootleg spirits, however, isn’t consigned to rural America or the Prohibition era. In 2012, 38 people in the Czech Republic and 4 people in Poland died as a result of methanol poisoning due to drinking bootleg liquor. At the time, the Czech government banned the selling of liquors with more than 20% alcohol by volume; exports of such products were briefly banned as well. Two suspects were eventually arrested and restrictions on liquor sales were lifted, but the danger of DIY booze was loud and clear.