Teen bootleggers make dangerous alcohol on TikTok

It may shock you to learn that making alcohol in your dorm is not a good idea.

It may shock you to learn that making alcohol in your dorm is not a good idea. (Pexels /)

In the latest trend regarding TikTok, teens have documented their DIY alcohol adventures while brewing alcohol with grocery ingredients, usually fruit juice, sugar and yeast active dryer. Some videos have gathered hundreds of thousands of likes and inspired others to create their own bedroom microbreweries.

These brief tutorials on TikTok dorm mead ask users to channel a tablespoon of active yeast and a cup of sugar into what appears to be a gallon juice bottle. They then leave the cap slightly loose or attach a balloon to the opening and let the hooch sit for about a week.

The process likely succeeds in producing an alcoholic drink, says John Wilson, a food scientist at Colorado State University, thanks to the molecular interaction between the yeast and the sugar in the juice.

"If you put yeast in sugar, you will certainly get fermentation and alcohol production," says Wilson.

Yeast uses sugar to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that provides energy to many biological processes. Essentially, fungi break down sugar by swapping bonds back and forth – the wave of activity in the yeast cell then produces carbon dioxide and ethanol (what we call Alcohol) as by-products.

Any carbon dioxide accumulated in the juice bottle could trigger an explosion in your refrigerator, says Wilson, although the balloon may release the pressure inside the container.

And even if it can get you drunk, it doesn't mean that DIY alcohol is safe.

Homemade yeast alcohol is nothing new – the illicit beverage is known by many names, including pruno, hooch and prison wine. The practice of cooking has been circulating in American prisons for at least two decades (it is mentioned in a poem from 1995), but probably for much longer, and has poisoned inmates in California, Arizona, Utah and Mississippi, according to the CDC.

Homemade drink can make people with botulism, a disease triggered by bacterial toxins that sometimes bloom in alcohol. When the pH of the juice drops above the ideal number of 4.6, which makes it less acidic, it promotes an ideal environment for bacteria spores to divide and grow.

Although the juice usually arrives on shelves with a balanced pH, says Wilson, the addition of yeast and spices in the brewing process increases the likelihood of developing botulism poisoning.

Symptoms of botulism poisoning include blurred vision, difficulty breathing and a thick tongue. When left untreated, people can suffer from muscle paralysis in the arms, legs and torso. Poisoning can even be fatal.

Some TikTok mixologists seem to use Fleischmann yeast, a product with historical ties to the alcohol industry. Before prohibition, Fleischmann specialized in lager; limited by the federal alcohol ban, the company has turned to the baking industry. Bakeries and breweries were once intrinsically linked: they generally shared yeast in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the production of beer generates many remaining mushrooms.

Long before John Wilson worked in a brewing research laboratory, he admitted that he had made a homemade juice hooch in his youth – to which he referred with the more refined name of "vin de pays" .

Despite the nicknames in love with the drink and its serious appeal to underage drinkers, it's still a potentially dangerous experience. Although TikTok is tagging certain videos that "could result in serious injury", the warning is currently absent on #prisonwine clips. Thanks to the copy nature of the app, users can easily try it without worrying about botulism poisoning.