Poteen Folklore: Spirit Explained: Poteen
CLASS: The Magazine Of Cocktail Culture
Extract from an article by Lesley Singleton
September / October 1998 - Page 36
Legend has it that Poteen (pronounced puh-cheen) also spelt Poitin, meaning 'little pot' (highlighting the small scale home production), has been produced in Ireland since the time when potatoes were first harvested. Also known as "Irish Moonshine Whiskey" or "Mountain Dew", its taste has been described as distinctive and unique, with dry, grainy kicks. Its aftertaste can have hints of toffee and other flavours and tends to sweeten as it develops.
In 1661, the English, attempting to re-build their post-war treasury, decided to introduce a charge on spirits. In Ireland, this forbade private distillation not licensed by the State. Therefore, to distil Poteen was against the law and led to a substantial section of the nation being deemed "criminals".
The distillation of Poteen became a large underground movement. Christmas proved a successful time for the racketeers when they supplied huge amounts of spirit to both the Republic and Northern Ireland. Most of the time, it was purchased for parties where the hosts wished to provide their guests with something a little different than could be obtained from an off-licence.
The actual recipe for Poteen is a closely guarded secret, though it is said that a good Poteen should only contain the finest malt yeast, barley, sugar and water. A beer or "baor" was achieved by fermenting the ingredients in wooden barrels, for around three weeks. This was then distilled, usually in a home-made still, to produce a clear spirit with a distinct smell.
Throughout decades of illegal production, doctors have condemned the trade and warned of the dangers of alcohol poisoning. They claimed that Poteen led to more alcoholism within rural areas of Ireland, as well as an increase in mental illness. That said, a doctor did claim in 1730 that drinking Poteen "to the point of intoxication held off old-age, aided digestion, enlightened ye heart and quickened ye mind".
On March 7th, 1997, the law against Poteen production was dropped. Legitimate brands became available. For many people, although the commercial brands are legal, they are still tempted to the illicit spirit. Although we don't recommend you try any, guidelines are available from the web which tell you how a drinkable but illicit Poteen is spotted. "Simply set fire to the spirit. If the flame is purple, it may be safe to drink" (although the word "may" should be taken lightly in this context). "If the flame is red, dispose of the liquid". Another old tale regarding Poteen was to put a mixture of half Poteen and half milk into a tablespoon to see if the milk curdled - if it did, the Poteen should be thrown away.
This spirit mixes well with orange juice, lemonade, cola, giver ale, bitter lemon or tonic. It is also a superb cocktail base.
Shake the following with ice and strain through a tea strainer into a martini glass
- 2 shot Irish Poteen
- 1 shot Midori / Melon Schnapps
- 1 shot fresh Lime juice
- 1 shot Orange Juice