Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Irish moonshine hits the big time

Poitín

Irish moonshine hits the big time

Irish moonshine hits the big time

Ray Cavanaugh | August/September 2017

For all that’s been made of the Irish drinking stereotype, authentic Irish moonshine, poitín (pot-cheen), has received comparatively little attention. Outlawed for 300 years, it was unbanned in 1997, but only recently has found itself on shelves and in bars outside the Emerald Isle. You can now buy brands like Bán Poitín – gold-medal winner in the 2016 Irish Whiskey Awards – at Selfridges and in some of the finer drinking establishments in London, America and farther afield.

The word poitín translates into “little pot”, the instrument in which the brew was traditionally distilled. Often distilled from barley, potatoes or molasses, its alcohol content spans the eye-tickling gamut from 40-90%, though many consider the higher end an exercise in masochism. Today’s poitíns, drunk straight, with a touch of lemon or – for the faint-hearted – with Bailey’s, are generally sweeter than vodka, with some flavours leaning towards the fruity, the grainy or the smoky, though these attributes tend to surface after the initial donkey’s kick.

Underground batches have caused blindness, and death can be another unfortunate side-effect. But today’s legitimate establishments, fortunately, provide poitín that is much safer. The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green, in London, offers 17 poitíns of varying potencies and flavours, as well as a tasting class, which dunks students into the booze and its mischievous history.

Across the Atlantic, you can now pickle yourself in poitín at bars such as Stout in Manhattan and Rí Rá in Washington, DC, and if you find yourself Down Under, the 1806 Cocktail Bar in Melbourne and the Jefferson in Auckland will fix your thirst for the Irish sauce. Whether sold straight or used as a cocktail base, poitín is chasing the diaspora of its people and finding new takers who are curious about the ancient brew of a nation famed for its appreciation of fine spirits.

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.