Poitin is The Spirit of Ireland
A uniquely Irish spirit etched in the very fabric of Irish society and folklore. If you’ve never heard of poitín before, you are not on your own. Also known as poteen (pronounced potcheen), this clear spirit has been called many things over the years and is the inspiration in the origin of moonshine, it’s younger cousin in the United States.
We all know the Irish invented Whiskey as the oldest known written record of whiskey comes from Ireland in 1405 in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, An Act was passed by the English Parliament in 1556 which declared whiskey to be:
“a drink nothing profitable to be drunken daily and used is now universally through the realm of Ireland”.English Parliament in 1556
This Act made it technically illegal for anyone to distill spirits without a license from the Lord Deputy. This had very little effect in Ireland until the 1700’s, as Crown control did not extend far beyond the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin,
In 1779, an Act was introduced taxing malted barley, at the time there were 1,228 registered distilleries in Ireland. Due to this new strict tax by 1790, this number had fallen to 246, and by 1821, there were just 32 licensed distilleries in operation. In contrast it is estimated at the end of the 18th century there were over 2000 illicit stills operating in Ireland. A lot of them were making whiskey but most were making Poitín.
The word Poitín, is a Gaelic word meaning “small pot” in reference to the small pot stills used by the illicit distillers. Poitín or Moonshine is notorious for its potency, it boasts an ABV of anywhere between 40% to a whopping 90%. The government made poitín production illegal from 1661 to 1997 due to excise regulations. For centuries across Ireland by small producers who used the ingredients they had to hand, that did nothing to stop its production. Pushed into the underground, and with no official controls on production, the spirit somewhat passed into folklore, garnering both an illicit romanticism and a formidable reputation for blowing your socks off!!
So what is Poitín?
What is Poitín? as per its Geographical Indication (which was awarded 2016), poitín is a clear, non-aged spirit produced on the island of Ireland, and traditionally brewed, fermented and distilled from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beet molasses or potatoes. Finally it must be a minimum of 40 per cent ABV.
“A good poitín should have a kick, it should have that heat, but there should be more to it. It’s important that it tastes of what it’s made of.”
As all Poitin is made from a variety of different mash bills, have a different ABV, and a variety of finishes the brand you choose means you’ll get a very different drink each time. We recommend sipping each one neat before mixing. To get you started here is our pick Top 10 Irish Poitins aka Moonshine. Tell us your favorite in the comments below.
1. Teeling Spirit of Dublin Irish Poitín, 52.5%
If you haven’t heard of Teeling Irish Whiskey you must have been trekking in the Himalayas. The distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years, commencing spirit production in early 2015. But the brand has much older roots with the Teeling family first distilling in Dublin city in 1782.
This bottle is something special as it was the “New Make Spirit” that was to set the stage for Dublin Whiskey to be reborn. In 2018 Teeling released their Single Pot Still Irish whiskey, the first to be released for nearly 50 years.
This triple distilled Poitín uses a recipe of unmalted and malted Irish barley, meaning it’s pretty sweet. As Poitín goes, this is a pretty good place to start compared to the other spirits in our list. This Poitín has a soft, creamy finish, a little fruit that adds interest, but nothing too challenging to frighten you. This is higher in strength that some of our other picks so get ready, sip it straight or savour over ice on a hot day.
2. Micil Irish Poitín, 44%
Made in Galway and named after the distiller’s great, great grandfather, this spirit is made from Irish grain and flavoured lightly with the locally sourced, water-dwelling bogbean plant. It’s a recipe that has been passed down the family for 150 years, but the brand has only been commercially available since 2016, with sixth-generation distiller Pádraic Ó Griallais at the helm. This one is an earthy poitín, with quite a sour initial bite, followed by almost honey and banana-like notes. A lingering velvety finish adds a little softness, but that pepper bite is still there. Shake with egg white, lemon juice and sugar syrup for a really excellent sour. Read our review here for more cocktail ideas or Buy now at Celtic Whiskey Shop.
3. Glendalough Mountain Strength Poitín, 55%
Glendalough distillery is at the heart of craft distilling in Ireland. Famous of course for it’s Whiskey and also known for its gin which is made from locally foraged ingredients.
Glendalough have a range of Irish Poitins that are hard to choose from. We have chosen the Mountain Strength Poitins weighing in at a massive 55% AVB. Made using sugar beet, malted barley and aged in virgin Irish oak before bottling. The Mountain Strength gives a very soft, buttery, vanilla nose. On the palate you find a fruity, blackcurrant dessert flavour with buttery dessert notes. Yes it packs a kick, you get that characteristic “burn” that you find from the green, label-less bottle your grandfather brought out at funerals. But overall is fruity, with a hint of sweet wood and wine. #Yum
+Glendalough Poitin 40%
This is a craft, small batch distilled Poitin from the newly created Glendalough Poitin company. Unusually for a poitin this has been aged for a short period in virgin Irish oak casks.
+Glendalough Sherry Finish Poitin 40%
Made from both malted barley and sugar beet. Glendalough Sherry finish is matured first in virgin Irish oak casks then transferred into Sherry casks for a final finishing. Try this one with dessert.
4. Bán Poitín, Pot Still Spirit, 48%
This white spirit “Ban Poitin” (pronounced bawn) is produced at the Echlinville distillery in Northern Ireland from potatoes, malted barley, and sugar beet. The founder, Dave Mulligan started producing this spirit in 2012. He is very much a local bartender with a love for poitin as he opened a hughly popular par called the 1661 bar just off Capel Street in the heart of Dublin City. By this spirit at the bar or in the Celtic Whiskey Shop.
His recommendation is to “Serve it neat, over ice, or as a boilermaker when paired with a pint (Guinness would be a good choice), you’ll get aromas of toasted bread, and a little greenness, followed by a tingle of pepperiness. Add to that a sweetness and very soft mouthfeel which combined suggest something like marshmallow, and you’ve got yourself a lovely spirit, with enough complexity to really chew over.”
What started out as an interest in the illicit turned into a total obsession, a determination to bring this epic piece of Irish culture out of the underground and to the modern world.Dave Mulligan
5. Tipperary Poitín, 48%
From the founders of Tipperary Boutique Distillery, Jennifer Nickerson, Stuart Nickerson and Liam Ahearn are a family with an abundance of skills in distilling. Bottled in Ireland using 50/50 Malted and unmalted barley from THE BIG FIELD at Ballindoney Farm. Check out our reviews of their Single Malt & Red Wine Cask Irish Whiskey.
6. John O’ Connell’s Small Batch Poitin, 72%
West Cork Distillers produces a number of poitíns including its own brand, Two Trees. This particular poitín is named after the O’Connell family, who’ve been distilling for seven generations. Made from barley and sugar beet, this one has a very bready, biscuity nose, but is exceptionally sweet on the palate, with that chewy, savoury cereal taste coming after a short but powerful burst of heat. Yes, again it is exceptionally strong, but there’s a lot of flavour here and honestly, it’s not as scary as you might think a spirit of this ABV ought to be. Sip – trust us, it’s good – or use in place of dark spirits in your cocktails. Buy it at Auction at Irish Whiskey Auctions.
7. Ballykeefe Irish Poitin 40%
Triple distilled through their beautiful copper pot stills, Ballykeefe distillery keep the traditions of the past alive in a modern way. Poitin was banned which made the substance illegal from 1661 to 1997. A rebellious legacy is alive in the heart of Ballykeefe, get your hands on this one for a traditional taste of Irish Poitin .
8. Straw Boys Poitín (Irish Moonshine) 45%
The Straw Boys Poitín is a Connacht Whiskey nod to the illicit distilling that took place in the Irish countryside. Handcrafted in the copper pot stills at the Connacht distillery using malted barley as the base ingredient.
This is a very approachable tasting poitin serve it straight or with a mixer. Bottled at 45% alcohol this Poitín is malt based and has an earthy fruity nose and the unmistakable taste of old fashioned poitín. Looking to try their Whiskey? Check out their 4 year old Ballyhoo grain whiskey.
9. Mad March Hare Poitin 40%
Mad March Hare is a fine poitin that is crafted in Ireland using only malted barley. Copper pot stills are used (not column stills) and these contribute to the clean and crisp natured of the poitin. Buy it here.
Cooley, Single Pot Still Poitin, 65%
We thought we would finish up this Top 10 Irish Poitins aka Moonshine, with something a bit special. A very rare, yet fantastic small batch Poitin that was unfortunately discontinued. When Cooley started distilling their first Single Pot Still (SPS) spirit at Kilbeggan, there were quiet rumors they had been experimenting at their main Riverstown distillery in Louth. The industry was excited by what was to come, but after the distillery was bought by Beam Suntory in 2012 these rare bottles disappeared from the shelves forever.
This Cooley, Single Pot Still Poitin, (unmatured whiskey) was triple-distilled in Riverstown in the big pots stills there and is bottled at 65%. Very limited upon release with only 1,000 bottles, each 50cl bottle was around €30. It was sold from the Celtic Whiskey Shop if you see a bottle back on their shelves buy it!
We would love to hear about your favorite Poitins & Whiskeys. Tell us your favorites in the comments below.
Every Whiskey Tells a Story, What Will Yours Be?Sláinte from The Whiskey Trail
#EatDrinkExplore – by Paul Kavanagh