Nearly every culture has its own form of moonshine. We’re not talking about Prohibition-era, delinquintly distilled bathtub gin, but rather homemade spirits traditions like lambanog and grappa. Of course, there’s also American moonshine, which is typically an unaged whiskey that can be grossly potent (although there are some solid brands out there, too). But it’s an Irish moonshine that might be better than all those. Everyone, it’s high time you met poitín.
The word poitín (pronounced put-cheen) is derived from the Irish word “pota,” which means pot (it was originally made in small copper pot stills). Coincidentally, the Irish word for hangover is “póit,” which is a telling way to guess what happens if you drink too much of the stuff. Made from ingredients like malted barley, cereal grains and even potatoes, poitín most resembles an unaged whiskey in smell and flavor. In other words, while it’s made in Ireland, those familiar with its American counterpart would find the two quite similar, though we think poitín has a much smoother flavor upfront. It has an interesting history and fell upon some troubled times in 1661 when the British crown wanted to tax it.
“[It was] first distilled by Irish monks in the 6th century, and driven underground in an attempt to extract taxes from the working class in 17th century Ireland,” says John Ralph, the CEO of Intrepid Spirits, which currently produces Mad March Hare Poitín. ”Poitín may have disappeared from the mainstream but was kept alive by a small group of artisans that plied their trade in the shadows.”
For more than three centuries, Ireland’s poitín makers took to the underground and secretly distilled their family recipes to avoid taxation. Poitín was finally legalized in 1997, and it was given Geographical Indicative Status by the EU Council and Parliament in 2008, meaning it must come from Ireland.
We recently got our hands on a bottle of Mad March Hare, and we found it to be pleasantly smooth for a liquid that’s known as Irish moonshine. The liquid is hot on the palate and has bright citrus notes of lemon and lime and a thicker, grain-flecked finish with lingering dried fruit flavors. While a lot of low-quality American moonshine gets hotter and more astringent as you drink it, poitín has a mellower finish and makes for much easier sipping, even if it’s served neat.
While we didn’t taste poitín in a cocktail, many brand websites boast recipes and ideas for mixing. “Mad March Hare is exceptionally versatile,”Ralph says. “It works in everything from a Margarita to a Bloody Mary.”
While many new poitíns are still difficult to find in the United States, some brands like Mad March Hare are becoming more readily available as the spirit gains more awareness. You can snag a bottle online (or maybe even at your local liquor store) for about $29.