Only the Irish could be proud to have one of the strongest alcoholic beverages in the world made here on this island. Poitin (pronounced Poteen) traditionally has an alcohol content of 60% – 90%, ouch that would dull the taste buds!
Poitin distilling started to rise when, on Christmas Day 1661, taxation on alcohol was first introduced. Yes I know a little bit snore zzz when it comes to dates but seriously Christmas day, now that was a bit harsh. As the Irish got wise to ways of avoiding taxation by hiding their spirit in concealed cellars, the London Parliament responded with tighter legislation. Mind you it did take them 18 years! They decided to introduce a tax based on pot still capacity. This meant that London would generate their tax regardless of how much spirit was produced [or hidden 😉 ]. The fighting Irish had a few more tricks up their selves. They decided to distil in small capacity stills. It meant they could charge, boil and empty the stills making spirit around the clock while paying cheaper tax. However it was foul tasting, well so I’m lead to believe.
Between 1780 and 1822 the number of legal distilleries dropped from several hundred to just 40. During this time many were involved in the production of Poitin. The key ingredients were Potatoes + Sugar + Yeast, very different to today’s whiskey with Barley + Water + Yeast. It was generally produced in rural areas. Fuelled by turf (peat) but the rising smoke was a giveaway for watchful police and so distillers waited for windy, broken weather to distil.
Poitin remained illegal in Ireland from 1661 until the 7th March 1997 but it still remains illegal in Northern Ireland. The legal Poitin that can be found in Ireland today is much smoother and more palatable to drink at approx 40% – 45%. However if you look hard enough it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone who will produce some home distilled Irish Poitin the way it used to be.