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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Type Distilled beverage
Manufacturer Bunratty, Knockeen Hills
Country of origin  Ireland
Alcohol by volume 60%–95%
Colour Clear

Poitín or Poteen (IPA [ˈpˠotʲiːn], also potcheen) is a traditional Irish distilled, highly alcoholic beverage (60%-95% ABV).[1] Poitín was traditionally distilled in a small pot still and the term is a diminutive[2] of the Irish word pota, meaning "pot". Traditionally distilled from malted barley grain or potatoes, it is one of the strongest alcoholic beverages in the world, and for centuries was classified as illegal in Ireland.[3]


Legal status

Irish moonshine, along with all other private distillation not specifically licensed by the state, was outlawed in 1661[1]. On 7 March 1997, the Irish Revenue Commissioners withdrew their opposition to poitín being sold in Ireland, though legal production for export has been allowed since 1989. In 2008, Irish Poitín was accorded (GI) Geographical Indicative Status by the EU Council and Parliament.[4]

Today, two Irish brands are officially licensed to produce poitín, Knockeen Hills, and Bunratty.[3] Their products are however, far removed from the coarse illegal poitin produced in the past.


Poitín was generally produced in remote rural areas, away from the interference of the law. A wash had to be created and fermented before the distillation began. A wash for 100 gallons of fresh water was said to contain six stone of potatoes, six stone of sugar and some yeast. Stills were often set up on land boundaries so the issue of ownership could be disputed. Prior to the introduction of bottled gas the fire to heat the wash was provided by turf. Smoke was a giveaway for the police so windy, broken weather was chosen to disperse the smoke. The still had to be heated and attended to for several days to allow the runs to go through. In later years the heat was provided by gas and this reduced the chances of being discovered while distilling.

The quality of poitín was highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment. If poorly produced it can contain dangerous amounts of methanol and can blind or kill. In 2007 samples were found to contain chicken droppings.[5]


Producing poitín was a source of income for some, while for some it was produced in order to have a cheap alcoholic drink. Poitín was popular at weddings and wakes and a large supply was at hand. Farmers often used it (and still do) as a cure for sick calves and other farm animals. While not used as widely as it used to be, poitín is still available and is popular among the student population of Galway.


Poitín is a literary trope in Irish poetry and prose of the nineteenth century. The Irish critic Sinéad Sturgeon has demonstrated how the contested legality of the substance became a crucial theme running through the works of Maria Edgeworth and William Carlton[6]. Many characters in the work of contemporary Irish playwright Martin McDonagh consume or refer to poteen, most notably the brothers in "The Lonesome West". In the Saga of Darren Shan book "The Lake Of Souls" the character Spits Abrams brews his own poteen, he references Connemara saying that his grandfather comes from there. In Frank McCourt's book "'Tis", he recalls his mother Angela McCourt telling him that when his brother Malachy visited her in Limerick, Ireland Malachy went to the countyside and obtained poteen that he brought back to her house and which they then drank. She said that they were lucky that the guards did not arrest them all.

Music and film

Many traditional Irish folk songs, such as "The Hills of Connemara" and "The Rare Old Mountain Dew," deal with the subject of poitín. Poitín is mentioned in the song "Snake With Eyes Of Garnet" by Shane MacGowan & The Popes on their album The Snake.

The first feature film to be made entirely in Irish was called Poitín (1979). The story involves an illegal distiller, his two agents, and his daughter in Connemara, in the remote west of Ireland. Déantús an Phoitín (Poteen Making), by Léirithe le Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín, is a one-hour documentary film on the subject.

See also


  1. ^ a b McGuffin, John (1978). In Praise of Poteen. Belfast: Appletree Press. ISBN 0-9046-5136-3.  
  2. ^ Ó Dónaill, Niall (1977). Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. Dublin: Oifig na tSoláthair.   p.707
  3. ^ a b Niafer, MacMorna. "Poteen - The Guid Ould Stuff". Retrieved 12 March 2008.  
  4. ^ EU Regulation 110/2008 ANNEX 111 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical designations for spirit drinks and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sinead Sturgeon. "The Politics of Poitin: Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, and the Battle for the Spirit of Ireland". Irish Studies Review 15 (1).  


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