by Courtney Llewellyn
Much like Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day seems to only exist for certain people as an excuse to drink – which is a shame, because both holidays have much richer meanings.
(Fun fact: Evacuation Day, a holiday observed in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and the public schools in Somerville, Massachusetts, commemorates the evacuation of British forces from the city of Boston following the Siege of Boston, early in the American Revolutionary War…but also suspiciously falls on March 17 as well.)
With St. Patty’s Day soon arriving, though, it might be a good time to look at a very Irish libation: poitín. Pronounced either po-teen or po-cheen, it is a traditional distilled Irish drink that can be anywhere from 40 to 90 percent ABV. It can only be made from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beets, molasses and potatoes.
Historically, poitín was made in remote rural areas, far from any legal interference – Irish moonshine – and stills would be set up on property boundaries so ownership could be disputed. The quality of the drink was variable, based on the skill of the distiller and the quality of their equipment.
Today, Ireland is home to a number of commercially-produced spirits labeled as poitín, poteen or potcheen. In 2015, in consultation with producers and stakeholders, the Irish government adopted the Geographical Indication technical file for poitín, outlining the production methods that must be used in order for a spirit to be called Irish poitín, making it official.
Yours truly had the opportunity to try some homemade poitín at the childhood home of Gregory Grene of the band the Prodigals a few years ago, and I can tell you from experience it is strong stuff. Good, but strong.