I’ll have what she’s having.
If you’re looking to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in classic Irish style, you may want to serve up some poitín, which is also known as poteen or potcheen or just plain Irish moonshine. A potent whiskey-like spirit said to have been created by an Irish monk in 584 AD, poitín (pronounced po-cheen) is about as close as you can get to the official giggle water of Éire. Like champagne, poitín enjoys Geographical Indicative Status so the real thing can only come from Ireland.
A word of warning, though. This stuff packs a serious punch and can leave you fluthered in no time. In 1661, poitín was outlawed by King Charles because of its potency and it took until 1997 for the elixir to become legal for consumption again. Not that a little law got in the way of the Irish drinking this hootch for 300 years, mind you. They just made it at home.
Traditionally, poitín, which takes its name from the Irish word “pota” or pot, was distilled in small pots using potatoes, malted barley, crab apples and whatever other ingredients may have been on hand. Today, there are a number of Irish distilleries that are producing and exporting poitín. Among the best are Knockeen Hills, which offers a formula as stiff as the one that rubbed King Charles the wrong way, Glendalough, Bunratty Mead, and Coomara, which offers a less potent and more drinkable version flavored with wild berries and orchard fruits.
Poitín can be enjoyed straight up or used as a cocktail base instead of gin, tequila, vodka or whiskey. For St. Patrick’s Day, we suggest serving the Emerald Isle, a cocktail green in color that features a mix of poitín, Bailey’s Irish Cream, brandy, Crème de Menthe, Tia Maria and ice all shaken together.
“Poteen Drinker,” a painting by Brian Whelan
Poitín may be purchased at specialty liquor stores or online at Drink Up NY, The Drink Shop or The Whisky Exchange. Or you can simply do what the Irish did for all those centuries and brew up a batch of your own at home.
Poitín (based on an 1842 recipe)
Boil 5 gallons of water and pour it over a mix of ten pounds of rolled oats (unflavored oatmeal) that has had a pound of 6 row barley (ground) and mixed in to it. Allow this to sit until it is cool enough to add yeast, then add a dry ale yeast and 15 drops of liquid Beano (or three of the pills). When you add the yeast/Beano enzyme to the cooled mash, it may be thick, like stiff oatmeal. Don’t worry. The yeast breaks it down with the Beano as it is fermenting. Within a day it will be a liquid with grain floating in it. Ferment until dry. Double distill it in a pot still. Enjoy it with care. Recipe source: HomeDistiller.org
As the Irish like to say, Beannachtam na Femle Padraig (happy St. Patrick’s Day)!
Introductory photo: Mia Farrow
Introductory quote: When Harry Met Sally, 1989
Image sources: Glendalough, Brian Whelan
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