Poitín: An Irish Spirit You May Not Know

Last week, we discussed the world of Irish whiskey. Today, before we hop on Aer Lingus and fly back to the States, though, we'll take a quick look at another Irish spirit: poitín.

Poitín (in English, this is pronounced roughly as poteen or pocheen) can be described as Irish moonshine. A mostly rural product, it was made of potatoes, in some cases, and barley, in others. Poitín was produced on small pot stills, originally over peat fires. Poitín was distilled out to 60 to 90 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and consumed as an unaged spirit.

Traditionally, the flavors were rather harsh and unpleasant, like traditional American 'shine. Unlicensed distillation was outlawed throughout Ireland in 1661, driving poitín production underground. In 1989, though, the Irish Republic loosened legislation. Poitín remains illegal in the northern counties, however.

Today, two distilleries export poitín to the United States: Bunratty Winery and Knockeen Hills. Bunratty's product is distilled once in a small pot still, to an ABV of 40 or 45%. Knockeen's, on the other hand, is triple or quadruple distilled, to an ABV ranging from 60 to 90%. Both are available in the United States, although you'll probably have to special-order them.

A third distillery, the large Cooley facility I mentioned last week, also jumped into the poitín market last year. Cooley's is a single pot still product, triple distilled to 65% ABV. It's a small release, though, sold entirely in Ireland.

Recently, however, Ashlee Casserly—an Irish expatriate, living now in Washington, D.C.—launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to start a new poitín brand, 1661 Poitín. Casserly is working with a small-batch distiller in Ireland to produce the poitín and then import it into the United States. As of February 27, she had reached her funding goal of $40,000, so I'm eager to see how things progress from here.