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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Poitin

New Arrival of the Week: Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional! Brendan Carty is an architect…

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional!

Brendan Carty is an architect by profession but he got the idea to start his own distillery from visiting small producers in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. “I tried two year old whisky from Belgrove and it was as good as 21 year old Redbreast,” he said. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2017, he set about making his dream a reality.

He acquired a derelict stables at Killowen near a megalithic tomb in County Down and fitted it with ultra-traditional equipment: two direct-fired stills, a 1,000 litre wash still called Christoir and an 800 litre spirit still called Broc (after the Irish for badger), and worm tub condensers. This set-up, unique to Ireland, “creates an amazing flavour, another layer of complexity,” according to Carty. He began filling casks a year and half ago, the aim is to create a traditional single pot still whiskey. Although Carty’s view of what is traditional doesn’t chime with those formulated by the Irish Whiskey Association, so he won’t be able to call it as such. His mash bill consists of about 30% oats, rye and wheat, the Geographical Indication (GI) only allows for 5%, 30% unmalted barley and 40% malted barley. According to Carty, the 5% came at the instigation of Midleton which at the time the rules were created was the only distillery making single malt still whiskeys like Redbreast and Green Spot. In the past, the non-barley component was much higher. Furthermore, Killowen uses peated malt (GI rules do not allow for the word peated to be on the label of single pot stills releases) and only distills twice. According to Carty in the past: “Irish whiskey was more double than triple-distilled and more often peated than not. To turn our back on that heritage is absurd.”

Brendan Carty with Christoir and Broc

His whiskey comes of age in a year and a half, we’re sure it’s going to be well worth trying. Meanwhile, there are various gins and a poitin to try. The latter, made with an unpeated single pot still mash bill, he’s particularly proud of, describing it as “full of flavour, you get the influence of the direct flame, the Maillard reaction, giving an oiliness and full body.” He has also released some blended whiskies as part of the Bonder Experimental Series and as you might imagine these are proudly unconventional right down to his transparency about sourcing liquids. 

As per IWA rules, he’s not allowed to say which distilleries go into the blend so instead he says where the distilleries are located. The whiskey we’re looking at this week consists of Irish single malt and grain whiskeys, matured separately in bourbon casks, before being blended and aged in a sherry barrel, then married with a bourbon-aged Irish single malt in a Spanish wine cask. The grain came from County Louth so we can assume it’s from Cooley and the malt from County Antrim so it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out that it’s from Bushmills Distillery. Carty told us that he did try to buy some from Midleton but it “doesn’t sell whiskey to small producers.”

Some of the Killowen range

The Spanish wine cask used is not straightforward either. It formerly held Txakolina. Pronounced something like ‘chakolina’, this is a very dry, slightly sparkling wine, not dissimilar to a vinho verde, that comes from the Basque country. It’s just the thing to drink with mountains of seafood. But that’s not the end of the craziness, because the ends of the wine barrel were swapped for virgin wood Acacia. This is one of the areas where the IWA is relaxed giving producers the kind of freedom when it comes to cask that would cause the SWA to have kittens. Finally, it was bottled with a 10 year old age statement at cask strength, 55.4% ABV, with no chill-filtering. In fact, according to Carty, no filtering of any kind. Only 490 50cl bottles have been filled.  

There are other whiskeys in the series including one finished in an old Islay cask and a Tequila barrel bottling. So, lots of exciting things going on at Killowen. We are expecting great things from the first whiskey distilled in-house.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sweet white fruit, with peach, nectarine and grape, with ripe pear, citrus peel and subtle oak spice.

Palate: More fresh pear accompanied by greener notes now, with dried kitchen herbs, oaky vanilla and dried apricot.

Finish: Hints of lychee, grapefruit and more ripe stone fruit, with more wood spice returning on a lengthy finish.

Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey is now available from Master of Malt

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Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more……

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more…

I’m a fan of poitín. Maybe it’s the patriot in me. Maybe it’s the historian. It could just be that I love really good booze. It can be hard to find somebody as passionate about the spirit as I am. In Pádraic Ó Griallais, I’ve more than met my match.

Poitín has been distilled for over six generations by his family. The story began in 1848 with Micil Mac Chearra in Connemara, home to the largest Gaeltacht (a primarily Irish-speaking region) in the country. For over 170 years his ancestors have continued to make the spirit in the traditional manner using his secret recipe, predominantly illicitly. That was until 2015, when Ó Griallais gave up his teaching career to turn his legacy into a premium brand and bring back legal distillation to Galway after a century. 

Ó Griallais was motivated to start Micil Distillery as he felt there was a terrible void in the poitín category for real authenticity. “There was plenty of ‘paddywackery‘, but I felt it was time to tell an authentic story,” says Ó Griallais. “I come from a family of poitín distillers. The methods have been handed down from generation to generation. My grandfather, Jimmi Chearra (an old picture of him was chosen as the brand’s logo,), taught me everything I know about the craft and heritage. I wanted to spread that appreciation. It was a very touching moment for him to see that Micil’s recipe, Micil’s heritage and his own heritage is now on the open market and it’s being continued. The legacy has been brought into a totally different light”. 

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery founder Pádraic Ó Griallais

It’s worth remembering the light that was cast on his family’s craft for many years was very different. Jimmi was fined as a younger man when he was caught in possession of malt. His story that he was only using it to brew beer was viewed rather dimly by the local police. If a poitín still, much like the one that sits in the middle of Micil Distillery, was found it would be confiscated and destroyed. Making poitín was a dangerous act of defiance for the people who distilled it, a hidden preservation of community and Irish identity. Ó Griallais talks about this troubled history passionately, pausing to flash a quick mischievous grin before he tells me a story that sums up that spirit of rebellion.

“Probably the most infamous poitín story was about the confiscation of a local still. The owners weren’t known by the local authorities or police but the still was brought to the police station to be destroyed. Nobody could have predicted what happened next,” says Ó Griallais. “That night the station was broken into and the still was taken back. Despite a big investigation, the still was never found and the culprits were never brought to ‘justice’ if you want to use that kind of terminology. We’re not believers of any kind of hearsay or old wives tales, but some people say that the still exists today. Of course, nobody knows for sure.” Ó Griallais then says if I do happen to see it around, I should let him know, before allowing himself once more wry smile and adding, “But you know what? Sometimes it’s amazing what can be right underneath your nose”.

Things are much less controversial for Ó Griallais, who uses the original 170-year-old family recipe in every bottle of Micil Poitín, which combines 100% Irish malted barley and a local Connemara botanical called bogbean. “It’s amazing that we’re still able to use bogbean in our family poitín. It’s a local wild botanical that’s been used since the year 1324 by monks for medicinal purposes and it’s one of the things that really makes Micil’s poitín stand out,” he says. The words hand-crafted and small scale are tossed around a lot these days, but Micil Distillery is genuinely a modest enterprise overseen by Ó Griallais and his brother. Together, they distil approximately 60 bottles of poitín a day. The bottling, labelling and packaging all happen in-house. “We didn’t want the craft to go out of the process and have it become too industrial. It’s romantic, I suppose, and very close to what would have been done throughout the generations”. 

Micil Distillery

The old family still has a remarkable history

For the brand’s Heritage Poitín, Micil brings into play a raw material that is often considered Scottish in the world of booze: peat. “There was no other fully Irish peated spirit on the market when we launched it, so it’s unique, but it’s also something we’ve been doing for generations. We always made peated spirit as well as unpeated in Ireland,” says Ó Griallais. “We found a farmer in County Meath that peated his malt, so we gave him the turf that we harvest ourselves from Connemara. It’s a true expression of what poitín from Connemara would smell and taste like, which is milder than Islay whisky”.

Not everything Micil does is traditional, as evidenced by the creation of its Irish Gin, but Ó Griallais was keen to ensure that it retained the same sense of identity and provenance. His gin was created to showcase the botanicals, the flowers and the herbs available throughout Connemara in a different form to poitín. It’s an approach that bodes well for his upcoming whiskey. “Poitín is always going to be our founding category, so our whiskey will be modelled our poitín process. There will be innovation in terms of the type of whiskey that we do, from the use of grains to the styles. We’re not going to purely make single malt or your typical triple-distilled pot still style. There’s likely to be a variety,” Ó Griallais says.

While Ó Griallais is comfortable engaging with different categories, poitín will always be at the heart of Micil Distillery. It’s not an easy sell, however. One of the reasons why it’s important for Ó Griallais to tell an authentic story of poitín distillation is because it’s such a misunderstood and maligned spirit. “I was brought up making it and recognising the difference between high quality versus mediocrity. Unfortunately, the latter has been the experience of a lot of people in Ireland which means often they have no real appreciation of any of the nuances in the category or what high quality means,” says Ó Griallais. 

Micil Distillery

Poitín has a long and complex history and Ó Griallais believes in its potential to have a big future

A lot of Ó Griallais’ time is spent dispelling myths about poitín, such as the idea that the sole raw material used to create the spirit traditionally was potato. “In reality, for most of poitín-making’s history it has been a grain spirit and the predominant grain would have been barley. Other grains would have been used with the barley, of course, like oats, wheat and rye,” says Ó Griallais. Then there’s the most damaging and pervasive notion about poitín, a classic criticism that will be known to anybody in Ireland: it’s is a coarse spirit with a dangerously high alcoholic strength. “Poitín is like any other spirit, if it’s made poorly and without due care and attention you are going to get an inferior product,” says Ó Griallais. “It’s the same with historic gin, a lot of amateur or inexperienced people made it with a focus on just on making something alcoholic, there was no care for quality. We had a different take and a different story to tell”.

No amount of misinformation and ignorance can rob the spirit of its tradition, provenance and identity, however, Ó Griallais believes it has potential. He points to the success of Tequila, a spirit category that has previously suffered from its fair share of ignorance, in recent times as an example poitín could follow. “Tequila historically didn’t have the reputation that it does today. But people are now more educated about the category. They have a perception now that it is made with high-quality ingredients, with traditional processes and made lovingly and traditionally in a specific region,” says Ó Griallais. “We want to show people the huge potential and the huge enjoyment that’s available with this spirit. The ambition going forward is we want to drive the poitín category on”.

As you begin a new year there’s an urge to broaden your horizons and grow. Exploring the world of booze and finding a new go-to spirit is as good a way of doing that as any, in my book. Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance. Maybe you should. And that’s not the patriot in me, or the historian talking. That’s the love of really good booze.

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New Arrival of the Week: St. Patrick’s Moonshine

This week we are mostly drinking a traditional Irish spirit made to an old family recipe from St. Patrick’s Distillery in Cork. The Walsh family have been distilling a long…

This week we are mostly drinking a traditional Irish spirit made to an old family recipe from St. Patrick’s Distillery in Cork.

The Walsh family have been distilling a long time, though in the past they had to keep quiet about it because it wasn’t always strictly legal. Walsh’s great grandfather Patrick Walsh was involved in the illicit production of poitín and had some run-ins with the law. “My late father, also Patrick Walsh, often reminisced about hiding bottles in the cabbage patch as a child whenever a raid was rumoured”, said Cyril Walsh from St. Patrick’s Distillery. It now produces a spirit that is made to the old Walsh family recipe from Croagh Patrick mountain in County Mayo. “He [Walsh’s father] would have been immensely proud to see the family tradition acknowledged and finally legal”, Walsh went on to say.

The family-inspired spirit is a blend of pot-distilled malted barley and potato spirit. The result is sweet, rich and spicy with a creamy texture from the potato, and bottled at a punchy 45.7% ABV. It’s like drinking fine new make whiskey. As you might guess it makes a cracking Martini but it’s really designed for sipping on its own. According to Walsh it “is eligible to be sold as poítin [but] we have chosen to call our signature spirit Moonshine as the largest markets for St. Patrick’s Distillery are currently the USA and China, and this is much easier to understand and pronounce”. But in future they do intend to release some limited edition bottlings labelled poítin.

Moonshine is just part of a range of spirits produced by Cyril Walsh and partner Tom Keightley. Walsh looks after the technical side of things and Keightley, who has an MBA (from Harvard, no less) runs the business. The company’s first releases in 2015 were a gin and a vodka, both potato-based. These have been joined by a range of gins, an Irish cream liqueur, and both blended and single malt whiskeys (which really impressed me when I tried them at the Irish embassy in London a couple of years ago). As well as the US and China, the company exports to Germany, Canada and the UK.

St. Patrick’s Distillery has picked up so many gongs from the IWSC, Irish Whiskey Awards, and C2C Spirits Cup in Germany, that the website looks like a Soviet officer’s uniform. The name of the company is a bit of a misnomer because, though it does have a still, at the moment the team buys in all its spirits.

They plan to start distilling at some point but at the moment Walsh and Keightley’s skills lie in buying, blending and maturing spirits distilled to their specifications. Something they seem to be very good at. 

Moonshine, spooky!

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Poitín is the star at new Dublin bar 1661

Poitín is a spirit usually associated with shebeens, rebels and criminal activity, not fancy cocktails and swanky decor. But that is now changing: Nate Brown investigates a Dublin bar that…

Poitín is a spirit usually associated with shebeens, rebels and criminal activity, not fancy cocktails and swanky decor. But that is now changing: Nate Brown investigates a Dublin bar that is taking Ireland’s original spirit upmarket.

Dublin is no stranger to the concept of revolution. Yet, with hindsight, the peaceful corner of Green Street and Little Britain Street in the unpopular Smithfield area of the city seems like an unlikely place to make a start. It is here, in an old dingy drinking den that Dave Mulligan is looking to transform not just the venue, not just the area, but to redefine industry views of Dublin as a cocktail powerhouse.

“This used to be what you might call an unsavoury bar. We found like 250 spent heroin packets in the basement,” pronounces Mulligan, “and you see that building across the street? That’s a dry hostel. Loads of people warned me off the area. It’s the wrong side of town.”

Needless to say, this didn’t stop Mulligan from acquiring the site for his latest bar venture, and his first permanent offering in Dublin. 1661 is a cocktail bar with a strong penchant for the nation’s own spirit poitín, which alongside the likes of Irish Single Pot Still was recently granted GI status by the EU.

Poitin

Bán Poitín! Actually, on second thoughts, don’t

“But I look around and I see the park, the church that will forever be our backdrop, the fruit markets what an amazing thing to have the doorstep of a cocktail bar daily, seasonal shopping. We got so much press from our pop-up that it confirmed to me there was an appetite for what we’re bringing. Dublin needs a bar like this.”

The name refers to the year when Ireland’s colonial rulers placed a market ban on the production of homemade spirits, or ‘poitín’. Since then, the spirit had descended into folklore. Every Irish expat could get their hands on a bottle, often of dubious quality, without ever knowing anyone directly involved in the production.

Recently however, Mulligan and handful of others have sought to bring poitín back into the spirits fold. Today, Dave’s own brand, Ban, can be found on the menu at the American Bar in the Savoy among a whole host of other prestigious menus. Big players Teeling have released their own ‘Spirit of Dublin’, and are accompanied by an increasing number of smaller producers from all over the island.

“Nobody’s ever given poitín a proper platform. Some bars here might have two, but they don’t do anything about them, people are always asking me ‘where can I drink it in Dublin?’”

Fast forward to this weekend and 1661 is preparing to open its doors to the public for the first time. Mulligan has taken a step away from the purely poitín offering of his pop-up in 2017; the bar is a cocktail bar first and foremost, whilst hoping to deliver a unique showground for poitín.

Poitin on the Ritz

Poitín on the Ritz

Stepping into the space itself feels like entering into a classic cocktail bar in New York or further afield. The walls are dark with clever, gold accentuations, the wooden table tops have been carved from Irish oak and sycamore the natural cracks filled in with traditional carpenter’s bows. The deep green of the seating is the only obvious nod to the Irishness in the concept. The bar counter is raised to poser height, which combined with the drinks shelves in the windows outside give 1661 an unmistakably continental vibe. The centrepiece of the room is a huge sharing table belying the community feel that Mulligan wants 1661 to evoke.

Unsurprisingly therefore, one of his traits is an eagerness to heap praise on those around him. He repeatedly tells us that he “wouldn’t have been able to do this without Oakheart Joinery.” There are real touches of finesse throughout the space, an upmarket feel that is not expected in a shrine to Ireland’s underbelly spirit. Even Mulligan notes his surprise at the levels of sophistication: “We’ve created the type of bar I’m usually not allowed into”.

The impressive back bar is testament to this sharing ethos: 1661 has a large collection of poitíns, not just Mulligan’s own brand, and many of which feature as strongly as Ban on the cocktail list. These sit alongside some real gems in other categories. Where most Dublin venues align strongly with either Diageo or Pernod Ricard listings, 1661 is fiercely independent.

The cocktails themselves are a collection of whiskey highballs, poitín-based creations and a signature Belfast Coffee made with in-house cold brew and Ban. Luckily for Dave, execution of these is in the well-travelled hands of one of Dublin’s (and London’s) most respected bartenders, Gillian Boyle. Expect lots of wild Irish ingredients, hedgerow fruits and orchard flavours.

Making poitin cocktails

Making poitín cocktails

The aforementioned basement has been cleared up, and Mulligan has big plans for the space. He says away from calling it a lab, and instead offers the label of R & D space. There will be vacuum stills to create new spirits, not just deviations on the poitín he so adores.

“I want to be the first bar to transcend Dublin, to feature on the global scene.”

Is Dublin ready? It better be.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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Put poitín first this St. Patrick’s Day

As the world gears up to celebrate all things Emerald Isle, at MoM Towers we want to present the case for its oldest spirit, poitín! We take a look at…

As the world gears up to celebrate all things Emerald Isle, at MoM Towers we want to present the case for its oldest spirit, poitín! We take a look at the past, present and future of the drink with help from Teeling Whiskey and London’s The Sun Tavern bar, plus we check out some cracking cocktail suggestions and explore top bottlings.

St. Patrick’s Day, observed annually on 17 March, is generally a divisive occasion. For some it is all fun and festivities, celebrating the Irish people and their contribution to the world. For others, it is an infuriating time of year, a day of international patronisation, stereotyping and cultural appropriation that leads to a night out only possibly outdone by New Year’s Eve on the ‘God, why did I bother?’ scale.

But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a good time this St. Patrick’s Day, or cherishing the Irish in you (no matter how dubious the connections). So why not leave the leprechaun outfits at home, along with the references to ‘drink’, ‘potatoes’, ‘to be sure to be sure’ and ‘top of the morning’, and celebrate it with a new terrific tipple. A surprising spirit with a rich history, cocktail potential and huge taste. No, not whiskey – poitín!

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1512 Spirits – Barbershop Booze!

When I first heard about a distillery from San Francisco run by a man who spends his days also running a barber shop, I have to say, I was intrigued….

1512 spirits closeup.jpg

When I first heard about a distillery from San Francisco run by a man who spends his days also running a barber shop, I have to say, I was intrigued. What followed was a story you couldn’t even make up.

Cutting hair and distilling are both skills that run deep in Salvatore Cimino’s family; he learned to make wine and distill grappa from when he was just a young boy. As a child, he would even climb inside the stills to give them a good clean! Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, ‘Sal’ grew up to be a Master Barber as well as now becoming a legitimate Master Distiller!

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