Distilling in Ireland goes back centuries, indeed Irish whiskey is one of the earliest recorded distilled drinks in Europe and has records dating back to the 1400s – although it is believed that production can be traced back to around 1000 AD.
Poitín goes back even further, possibly before the 6th century, and its history is intertwined with that of Irish culture. Despite being made illegal in 1661 it remained widely available especially in rural parts of the country. Finally in 1997 it was made legal again and more recently there have been a number of legal producers making waves domestically and internationally with what is now a European GI (Geographical Indication) protected drink.
There is a common misconception that Poitín is primarily made by distilling potatoes, but grain-based distilling has and remains the dominant method for producing Poitín.
Every country has its own spirit and with Ireland it’s arguable we have two – Irish whiskey and Poitín. For a drink to be called Poitín it must be distilled in Ireland, using Irish ingredients (whether that be a grain, sugar beet, potato and so on).
Funnily enough the first legally produced Irish Poitín since 1661 was distilled by Oliver Dillon of Bunratty Winery, Co. Clare in 1987, which until 1997 and the full legalisation of Poitín in Ireland was only sold in international markets.
Nowadays there are multiple legal Poitín brands and distilleries. Mad March Hare Poitín (owned by Intrepid Spirits) leads the pack in terms of sales to the U.S. market, and Micil Irish Poitín (run by Pádraic Ó Griallais a 6th generation Poitín distiller in Galway) arguably has the most distinguished history.
There are also bigger distilleries getting in on producing Poitín, most notably Teeling Whiskey whose Spirit of Dublin Irish Poitín is noted for its creaminess. Glendalough Distillery may be best known for its seasonal and unique gin releases but its range of Poitíns is second to none – its classic Poitín is complemented by a Sherry Finish Poitín and a Mountain Strength Poitín.
If you’re looking for something to clean the hairs out of your nostrils, West Cork Distillers producers a number of different Poitíns including a small batch release under the John O’Connell brand that comes in at an unbeliveable 72%. Try finding that in an Irish whiskey!
In 2019 the Poitín revitalisation took another positive turn when Dave Mulligan, credtor of the Bán Poitín brand (distilled at Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, Northern Ireland, Opened Bar 1661 on Green Street in Dublin. There you will find a unrivalled selection of Poitíns as well as bespoke cocktails available nowhere else. For aficionados and the curious alike it’s a must visit.