Kent Messenger (March 2003)
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'What's On Supplement'
Food & Drink
by George Ward
'The entirely legal trade in moonshine'
So there I was,waiting in a small Romanian town for my contact to deliver some home-made moonshine. When he finally arrived it was with a grubby two-litre Coke bottle full to the neck with tuica, the local colourless plum brandy.
Wonderful. Two litres of firewater of indeterminate strength to get through the Securitate and Customs first in Bucharest and then Heathrow. Pretend it's water, said a friend"And if I have to drink it?" I asked. In the end I wrapped it in a pair of trousers and sent it through as baggage.
Was it worth it? It's smooth, tastes fleetingly of plums, in the way that Parma Violets taste fleetingly of violets. I would put it at just under 40 ABV., though you can never be sure about anything home-made. Why should I drink it? Because there's something about moonshine (why does England have no tradition of the still in the back of the farmyard?).
The chances of getting your hands on tuica, or even its double-distilled version palinca (I'm fluent in Romanian booze terminology), are minimal. But, by coincidence, a distant cousin is available. Legally and in Kent.
Poteen has long been the stuff of folk stories in Ireland. Now Knockeen Hills are producing it in a legal form - at 60, 70, and 90 Abv. The main importers for EU distribution are Vins Francais of Canterbury (01227 700 600). I put up my tuica against their range.
It is good. Barry McMullen, bar manager at Cross Keys, Oaten Hill, Canterbury, got it about right: "I've drunk good poteen and bad poteen and you get an idea of what it is trying to taste like, and this is the finished product".
There are sponge cake, vanilla and lemon in the nose and the taste. It is best drunk with water to soften the high alcohol, which would otherwise numb the tastebuds. Strangely it stays smooth as it gains strength, only the intensity of the taste deepening.
As a mixer it slips happily into the position usually taken by other white spirits. With Coke it adds fruitiness that neither vodka nor white rum quite manage.
There are thoughts of making a quadruple-distilled version, but I reckon that takes all the street-rough, glamour out of the drink.
Poteen is now in some Waitrose stores, on offer on P&O Ferries, from the Barton Post Office, New Dover Road, Canterbury - and the Cross Keys. More info on www.irish-poteen.com
© Kent Messenger Group 2003