Bottles of legally produced poitín
|Country of origin||Ireland|
|Alcohol by volume||40%–90%|
Poitín (Irish pronunciation: [ˈpˠotʲiːn]) or poteen // is a traditional Irish distilled beverage (40%–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, treacle, sugar beet, potatoes or whey.
In 1661 a law was passed that meant all distillers must now pay tax on spirits produced for private consumption. Due to lack of adherence to the law, a further bill was passed in 1760 to make it illegal to operate a still without a license.
Today in Ireland there are a number of commercially produced spirits labelled as poitín, poteen or potcheen. In 2008, Irish poitín was accorded (GI) Geographical Indicative Status by the EU Council and Parliament.
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. 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.
The old style of poitín distilling was from a malted barley base for the mash, the same as Single Malt Whiskey or Pure Pot Still Whiskey distilled in Ireland. The word poitín stems from the Irish (Gaelic) word "pota" for pot, this refers to the small copper pot still used by poitín distillers.
In more recent times, some distillers deviated from using malted barley as a base of the mash bill due to the cost and availability instead switching to using treacle, corn and potatoes. It is believed this switch led the deteriorating quality and character of poitín in the late 20th century.
The quality of poitín was highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment. Reputations were built on the quality of the distiller's poitín, and many families became known for their distilling expertise, where a bad batch could put a distiller out of business overnight. 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 poitín made by Uncle Minto, Donal, and Liam.
Déantús an Phoitín/Poteen Making, by Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín, is a 1998 one-hour documentary film on the subject.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Up The Long Ladder" has character Danilo Odell state he was trying to make some with a primitive still only to set off the Enterprise-D's fire containment/suppression force fields whenever he tried to start a fire heat it.
- 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
- In Praise of Poitin by John McGuffin
- TG4 Documentary on Poitin Distilling
- Irish Independent Saturday, 24 November 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.
- "FYI: Can Drinking Moonshine Really Make Me Go Blind?". Australian Popular Science.
- 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