Bottles of legally produced poitin
|Country of origin||Ireland|
|Alcohol by volume||60%–90%|
Poitín (Irish pronunciation: [ˈpˠotʲiːn]) or poteen // is a traditional Irish distilled, highly alcoholic beverage (60%-90% ABV). Poitín was traditionally distilled in a small pot still and the term is a diminutive of the Irish word pota, meaning "pot". It is traditionally distilled from malted barley, grain, potatoes or whey.
It is one of the strongest alcoholic beverages in the world, and for centuries was illegal in Ireland.
Irish moonshine, along with all other private distillation not specifically licensed by the state, was outlawed in 1661. On 7 March 1997, the Irish Revenue Commissioners withdrew their opposition to poitín being sold under license in the Republic of Ireland. Production for export has been allowed since 1989. Poitín remains illegal in Northern Ireland. In 2008, Irish Poitín was accorded (GI) Geographical Indicative Status by the EU Council and Parliament.
Today[when?], two distilleries in Ireland are officially licensed to produce poitín: Bunratty Mead and Liqueuer and Knockeen Hills Poteen. Their products are far removed from the coarse illegal poitín produced in the past. Indeed, Bunratty is single distilled and only 40% or 45% ABV, far weaker than illegally distilled poitín, and comparable to vodka. Knockeen Hills is available in various strengths from 60% to 90% ABV, varying from triple-distilled to quadruple-distilled.
Poitín was generally produced in remote rural areas, away from the interference of the law. A wash was created and fermented before the distillation began. A wash for 100 gallons of fresh water contained six stone (84 lb) of potatoes, six stone of sugar and some yeast. Stills were often set up on land boundaries so the issue of ownership could be disputed. Prior to the introduction of bottled gas, the fire to heat the wash was provided by turf. Smoke was a giveaway for the police, so windy, broken weather was chosen to disperse the smoke. The still was heated and attended to for several days to allow the runs to go through. In later years, the heat was provided by gas and this reduced discovery by police while distilling.
The quality of poitín was highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment. If poorly produced it can kill. It has been claimed that the drink can cause blindness but this is possibly due to adulteration rather than lack of quality.
Poitín is a trope in Irish poetry and prose of the nineteenth century. The Irish critic Sinéad Sturgeon has demonstrated how the illegality of the substance became a crucial theme running through the works of Maria Edgeworth and William Carlton. Many characters in the work of contemporary Irish playwright Martin McDonagh consume or refer to poitín, most notably the brothers in The Lonesome West. In the Saga of Darren Shan book The Lake Of Souls the character Spits Abrams brews his own poitín. In Frank McCourt's book 'Tis, he recalls his mother Angela telling him that when his brother Malachy visited her in Limerick, he obtained poitín in the countryside and drank it with her.
Music, visual, and dramatic arts
Some traditional Irish folk songs, such as The Hills of Connemara and The Rare Old Mountain Dew, deal with the subject of poitín. The persecution of the Poitín-maker by the R.I.C. in 1880s Cavan is treated in The Hackler from Grouse Hall and its reply The Sergent's Lamentation. Poitín is mentioned in the song Snake With Eyes of Garnet by Shane MacGowan and The Popes on their album The Snake. The song McIlhatton written by Bobby Sands and performed by Christy Moore is about a famous distiller of illegally-made poitín.
The Hackler from Grouse Hall is a song written in the late 1880s from the Sliabh Guaire area of Cavan, Ireland about an overzealous R.I.C. sergeant who pursued an aging hackler with a fondness for Poitín. Christy Moore, Planxty and Damien Dempsey have each performed variations of this song available on You Tube. In the 1990s a product known as The Hackler, an Irish Poitín, was developed by Cooley Distillery. So popular was this song that the promotional literature originally referred incorrectly to a hackler as a maker of Poitín. This error was subsequently corrected.
The first feature film to be made entirely in Irish was called Poitín (1979). The story involves an illegal distiller played by Cyril Cusack, his two agents, and his daughter in Connemara, in the remote west of Ireland.
In the BBC television show, Ballykissangel, Paul Dooley is sentenced to 50 hours of community service for serving poitin made by Uncle Minto, Donal, and Liam.
- McGuffin, John (1978). In Praise of Poteen. Belfast: Appletree Press. ISBN 0-904651-36-3.
- Ó Dónaill, Niall (1977). Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. Dublin: Oifig na tSoláthair. p.707
- Niafer, MacMorna. "Poteen — The Guid Ould Stuff". Retrieved 12 March 2008.
- Sunday Mirror, 16 January 2000
- Inishowen's 'spirit' on UTV tonight, the Derry Journal newspaper online.
- EU Regulation 110/2008, Annex III Retrieved 2011-03-05
- Bunratty Potcheen Retrieved 2011-03-05
- Knockeen Hills product range Retrieved 2011-03-05
- Irish Independent Saturday, November 24, 1984 Page: 6 "Two deaths from poitin - inquest told"
- "Poitin may occupy 'a special place' but it is not safe". The Irish Times – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). 17 June 2004. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- Sinead Sturgeon. "The Politics of Poitín: Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, and the Battle for the Spirit of Ireland". Irish Studies Review 15 (1).
- Frank Brennan at Laragh Gathering, July 2013