My absence from Malt has been inexcusable; however, I have been caught up in the rise of Ireland’s most historic drink. Yes, you’ve heard me rhyme on about it before, and whilst I may go on incessantly, it may be time to take stock of where we are as the “Year of Poitín” has come to a prosperous and dignified end.
Brendan Carty first coined the phrase “Year of Poitín” back at the beginning of 2022 with the release of “stone soup,” which was a landmark change for poitín. Forever had poitín been the clear, white, and unapproachable spirit that many refrained from touching. But Stone Soup was a poitín aged less than ten weeks, giving some smoky whiskies a run for their money.
However, even before this, Dave Mulligan of Echlinville fame was bottling Bán poitín, a release which had been “barrelled and buried” to change the characteristics of – and almost contemporise – Ireland’s most ancient tipple. Yes, the “Year of Poitín” wasn’t just an attempt to bring awareness of poitín to the likes of whiskey enthusiasts; it was to almost re-brand it and allowed 21st century drinkers to experience something they had never had before, but to ensure that its fame endured.
Killowen’s releases throughout the year have been ceaseless but uniquely different. There’s been “Bulcàn,” a still strength poitín re-created to celebrate the dead. There’s “a Dò,” a poitín created by two separate distilleries from either side of the Irish border. Lest I forget “Faoi Dhráiocht,” a poitín which has been cask rested in Irish Oak for 18 days, an exclusive for “Poitín Now” and a first for Irish poitín.
Baoilleach distillery continues experimenting and combining different mash bills to create exceptional and wholly different poitíns. Micil distillery, too, producing their Irish Poitin Saothrú Edition, which honours the hard work and creativity of the Connemara poitín distillers of old, and showcases the truly unique spirit that results from being “rested” in wood such as chestnut and premium finishes such as amontillado.
Previously mentioned was “Poitín Now,” another first. Held in a poitín bar in Dublin (which coincidentally won “Bar of the Year”) in November, the “Poitín Now” event gave poitín centre stage and brought producers from home and abroad together for the first time to discuss various aspects, but mainly to showcase poitín.
Along with Killowen’s “Faoi Dhráiocht” release, Baoilleach produced a monster… literally. “The Cratur” is 100% peated malted barley and is a historic mash bill from Donegal, the legendary “Olde Inishowen,” as it is affectionately known to locals. Possibly the most exciting was Two Stacks’ exclusive for the event, a poitín matured in 100-year-old sherry casks, a historic and unique release for six lucky ballot winners.
Ultimately, poitín has given distillers another avenue to express themselves creatively and artistically. Whilst the technical file (legislation which governs the production of poitín) remains relatively rigid to navigate, there is enough scope with different mash bills and short maturations to encourage distillers to produce something exceptional. Some of the new mash bill work has been down to whiskey virtuoso Fionnán O’Connor, who is unearthing Ireland’s much lamented famous whiskey mash bills, which have undoubtedly influenced poitín’s manufacture.
The history of poitín has been divulged by me before in my Killowen Cuige article; however, one thing I will emphasise the importance of is poitín’s necessity to change. I previously mentioned contemporising it, which is a sure-fire way of cementing its place beyond the “Year of Poitín.”
Most recently, Killowen has produced a set of three poitíns, eloquently christened “Pangur.” This is from “Pangur Bán,” an Old Irish poem, written in about the 9th century at or near Reichenau Abbey, in what is now Germany, by an Irish monk about his cat, White Pangur. The name is an admirable nod to history whilst portraying the cat in a contemporary art style on the bottles. Pangur is a 50/50 marriage of two Irish Poitíns from two iconic distilleries, one big (presumably Cooley) and one tiny (Killowen), just across the lough from each other.
Pangur Irish Poitín Bourbon Rested – Review
I received the original, which has been subsequently matured in bourbon and is now
“bourbon rested.” 47% ABV. £49 via IrishMalts.
On the nose: Instant rye bread on the nose, lots of aniseed and a dose of salty seawater, which then leads to dulce, and the smell of rain. There’s also a spicy marmalade note that comes through with hints of Sevilla orange.
In the mouth: Initially, there’s a warming aniseed note which changes to dry pepper. Quite earthy also, with damp bark and wet grass. The beautiful texture is so creamy and luscious, reminding me of white chocolate. Finishes medium in length, more gentle warmth with ginger this time but with a sweet lemon meringue note too.
Pangur Irish Poitín Stout Wood Rested – Review
47% ABV. £49 via IrishMalts.
On the nose: Lovely toasted wood initially on the nose with a hint of black liquorice. The aniseed remains but with a new note of spearmint.
In the mouth: Equally as luscious, creamy and fulfilling. Chocolate fruit and nuts with toasted oak. Spicy vanilla custard with a cinnamon sugar dusting. Some light pepper too, but this is thoughtfully balanced and delightful. More warmth exudes from the finish. Again, quite subtle, but the spice gently fades to leave a tingling vanilla sensation.
Pangur Irish Poitín PX Wood Rested – Review
47% ABV. £49 via IrishMalts.
On the nose: Stone fruit comes straight to the fore with prominent prunes and unripened plums. There’s also the aniseed note from the non-wood rested release, but it’s more subtle and lends itself to more of a toasted cinnamon stick note. There’s a little smoke towards the end of the nose as well.
In the mouth: The texture again is so opulent and inviting, more milk chocolate, but lots of spice comes through this time and gives off cinnamon sugar and some clove notes. More dried fruit again, sultanas and raisins. Some hints of vanilla too, almost like flat Vanilla Coke.
Again, a lovely warmth exudes throughout the finish, but is exemplified at this stage. More ginger and fresh black pepper add a beautiful depth.
Poitín has always been a drink that people can remember their dad’s somehow procuring, or an uncle or farmer that “sorts you out” with a bottle of “Sprite” with red tape on it that ends up living under the sink and rubbed on the greyhounds now and again, as @whiskey4breakfast brilliantly puts it. This screams to me that it is not something that the new-age drinker would take to particularly well. Therefore, the attempt to “contemporise” poitín is an interesting and ambitious one.
Particularly with Pangur poitín, it is marketed primarily as a cocktail ingredient, and it’s easy to see why. When you compare it to Stone Soup, Bulcan, or Mulroy Bay, the flavours are not consuming or overwhelming to newbies. With Pangur, there’s character and flavour, but it’s more nuanced, even though it’s clear that it’s poitín. My particular favourite has to be the stout cask finish; it’s a clear winner. I’m a fan of stout cask finishes, but this one amplifies the flavour profile. The spice is abundant; however, the toasted wood combined with the chocolatey texture has a profound effect and intensifies the whole spirit. The PX cask and the original are also good and are probably the ones I would suggest for newbies to try first.
Pangur is an excellent concept. Poitín needed something to ensure its survival on the market. This contemporisation might just be where drinkers – not just within Ireland – realise that poitín is versatile as a cocktail, persuasive as a poitín and hopefully an enduring all-rounder that hits the mark.
Lead image courtesy of Killowen; bottle images courtesy of Irish Malts.