Weird beer #36

Ferment journeys to Vietnam for the ultimate hangover and the tastiest cure


This month’s Weird Beer comes from the pages of German newspaper Der Spiegel, which reports the case of a man with potentially fatal alcohol poisoning, who was saved by doctors pumping 15 cans of beer into his stomach.

48-year-old, Nguyen Van Nhat was taken to a hospital in Vietnam, where he was found to have lethally high levels of methanol in his blood. This highly dangerous form of alcohol – not usually found in any significant quantity in properly brewed or distilled drinks – was coming in at around 1,119 times higher than the recommended limit. Medics immediately administered a litre of beer, followed by another beer every hour for the next 12 hours, after which he regained consciousness.

But why? It all comes down to the way the liver metabolises alcohol. When presented with a mix of ethanol (fun alcohol) and methanol (deathy alcohol), the liver will break down the ethanol first. Nguyen lost consciousness when the methanol in his system oxidised to create formaldehyde, which in turn turns forms formic acid. For the record, none of these are things you want in your bloodstream for a long and happy life.

By keeping Nguyen topped up with beer, the clever doctors slowed down the rate at which his liver was able to metabolise the methanol, limiting the amount of formaldehyde and formic acid in his system. This bought them enough time to perform dialysis, clean the methanol from his blood and eventually (three weeks later) discharge him from hospital. 

It’s unclear why he was fed beer rather than given an intraveneous infusion of ethanol (or given a drug like fomepizole, which would also inhibit formaldehyde production) and it goes without saying that more booze should never be the go-to treatment for over-indulgence. In any case, it’s probably safe to assume you won’t be able to get a juicy DIPA banger on prescription any time soon.

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