Nell Frizzell | Contributing Writer | 1,001 day ago

Moonshine, Alcopop Vending Machines And Hand Wash, This Is How People Get Drunk Around The World

The Debrief: As you enter the last week of Dry January, remember that weird drinking traditions aren't just a British thing...

With the news that 17 people have been killed and 122 hospitalised after drinking toxic alcohol at a cricket match in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, moonshine is no longer the twinkley-eyed hillbilly tipple of Mark Twain novels and Prohibition-era TV drama.

In fact, ingesting a nefarious home-brewed combination of hand sanitiser, mouthwash, fermented potatoes or anti-freeze is just as dangerous, disgusting and unethical as it sounds. But the taste for off-grid booze is hardly the preserve of the Indian subcontinent. From the hills of Mozambique to the nightclubs of Germany, the trend for home-brewed liqueur and the unorthodox ways we drink it seems to be as strong as ever.


The Baijiu Challenge is what happens when neknominaters amass 1.3 billion and the spirit is strong enough to strip enamel from teeth. After a video of a man drinking half a litle of baijiu - a clear spirit distilled from sorghum (a grain native to Africa) and other grains that often reaches 60% proof - went viral, young Chinese women, including the actress Mengni Gabby, have filmed themselves downing eye-watering quantities of the stuff, then uploaded the results to Weibo and social media.


Although the practice of consuming alcohol vaginally - that’s right, by wearing a vodka-soaked tampon - originated in America, it has caught on in a not inconsiderable way in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. While young American women started doing shots up their baby chute to get around the legal drinking age of 21, Scandinavian women are able to drink from 18. Which rather begs the question why they wouldd risk alcoholic poisoning (without the vomit reflex it’s very hard to know when you’ve had enough) and such a thundering risk of infection.

And it’s not just women, of course. Young men are also jumping on the tampon bandwagon, arse first.

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While many states in India are ‘dry’ - alcohol is only sold to non-residents, tourists and people staying at 5 star hotels - deaths from drinking illegally brewed alcohol are common. In October 2013, 42 people were killed by a toxic batch across eight villages in the Azamgarh district, while around 170 people were killed in West Bengal in December 2011. Although, it must be said, these deaths are far more common among men than women.

But it’s not just homebrewed booze that gets sunk in litres across India. Bhang - a mix of cannabis and milk - has been washing across the country for over 500 years; the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus mentions the use of bhang in India back in the 4th Century. Bhang lassis are made with nuts, spices, poppy seeds, ginger, sugar and either honey mixed with cannabis powder or from milk boiled with the cannabis plant. While cannabis is, strictly speaking, illegal in India, you can still often find women in markets selling bhang for your buck.

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Over Christmas - a time when alcohol tends to flow as freely as family discord in Northern Europe - inmates serving sentences at Limerick Prison were taken to hospital after drinking a concoction of prescribed tablets and hand wash. According to The Irish Examiner, one hospital source ‘I think they had made up some alcoholic drink in jail. They were very drunk,’ the source said.

Ireland has a fairly long history of fervent home fermentation. Poitin, a homemade Irish whisky made from potatoes, malted barley or even crab apples was made illegal back in 1660 due to its furious potency. In some cases poitin reaches 95% proof. However, since 1997 the Irish Revenue Commissioners has allowed poitin to be sold for consumption within Ireland and by 2008 it was accorded Geographical Indicative Status by the EU Council and Parliament.


Last week, the female owner of a drink stand in Mozambique, along with her daughter, nephew, and four members of neighbouring families died from drinking contaminated phombe - a fermented mix of sorghum, bran, corn, and sugar.

Quite where the speculation that the drink was contaminated with crocodile bile came from is, as yet, unclear. However, 73 people are known to have died as a result of drinking the beer after attending a funeral.



Thanks to a littering of booze vending machines, bottle beer and alcopops are readily available on the streets of Japan. Like the world’s most liberal leisure centre foyer, customers using these machines are trusted to only do so once they reach 20 - the legal drinking age. That’s right - they’re an entirely self-regulating, freely available supply of booze to anyone with the coins to invest.

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Moonshine is still a significant, sometimes deadly business in America. Especially when, as seen in Alabama last month, its production involves a siphoned off leave-strewn creek, a couple of plastic barrels and some truly filthy bits of piping and a tarpaulin. But off-grid whisky isn’t the only risk Americans are running with their liver. Two words for you: True American. And you can thank Zooey Deschanel for that.


When it comes to Thai booze, the KFC rule applies – if you’re consuming it out of a bucket then you’re probably doing it wrong. Of course, tourists, students and travellers throw caution to the palm-tree-fluttered wind and have been drinking faintly-poisonous plastic buckets full of sticky-thick Red Bull, Thai whisky and lemonade for years. But, let’s be honest, a belly full of fermented sugar and a gusset full of sand is only fun until the yeast infections start.

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Picture: Matilda Hill-Jenkins

Tags: Around The World, World News Wednesday, Boozing