A Guy Walks Into a Hospital….
An article at NPR.com from 2013 and a small blurb in a recent Mens Health magazine issue brings up an interesting story about a 61 year old homebrewer that stumbles into an emergency room, complaining of dizziness and reportedly acting a bit “drunk.” His blood alcohol level was tested and resulted in a level of 0.37 percent (5 times the legal limit) yet he stated he hadn’t had any alcohol that day. His wife and other medical personal just assumed that he simply wasn’t telling the whole truth about his drinking, but after being isolated for 24 hours and showing elevated ABV after eating carbohydrate heavy meals and having NO alcohol, the doctors diagnosed him with “Auto-Brewery Syndrome.”
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Sounds cool. How do I do it?
It’s not as cool as it sounds. In the case outlined above, the culprit was an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a popular yeast strain used in winemaking, baking and brewing. This isn’t a surprise considering this gentleman was a home brewer. When the home brewer ate or drank high carbohydrate foods, the high concentration of yeast in his intestines would ferment the sugars into ethanol, absorb into his body and cause him to become drunk. Check out the graphic below from Aslan Brewing to see how a typical brewing system works. No, your body isn’t setup nearly as well as Aslan’s sophisticated brewing system, and unlike them, you probably aren’t using 100% organic ingredients, but it’s a good illustrated view of how a brewery works. In relationship to this article, this home brewers gut acts as the fermenter / Step 4.
So, could simple homebrewing expose this guy to enough yeast for this to happen?
Only if he ate it as a snack.
An article at the US National Library of Medicine references a case where a defendant in a drunk driving case used Auto-Brewery Syndrome as his alibi and it didn’t work out so well for him. It turns out you’d need a perfect storm of situations for your gut to suddenly turn into your own personal brewery. One opportunity for this brewery to get it’s occupancy license in your gut is after a long exposure to antibiotics where the healthy flora in your intestines are essentially wiped out leaving a solid foundation for any yeast to take residency. But the USNLM article suggests that even if this were to happen, the concentrations of ethanol produced are “…far too low to have any forensic or medical significance.” Even in non-healthy individuals.
So, while it would be super great for us to be able to brew beer in our guts as we carry on our normal daily routines, it simply can’t happen. Plus, we have so many great beers that we haven’t tried yet [check out these reviews] why would we want to leap over that experience. If you do find yourself drunk after a day of not drinking, definitely get some medical advice, but don’t blame your home brewing. Chances are you just forgot about the few shots of Rumple Minz you had at the cyclocross race that morning or the tiramisu your aunt brought to the potluck doesn’t really follow the family recipe as much as it should.