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Poitín is Ireland’s most ancient spirit and is often referred to as Ireland’s mezcal, cachaça, grappa and, most commonly, moonshine. The word is a diminutive of the Irish word pota, which means ‘pot’, and is a spirit with something of a dark and chequered history. For this reason it has always carried an element of intrigue.

Traditionally poitín is created using grain or potatoes as a base, which are made into a wash to be distilled in a homemade copper still. Open turf fires are then used to heat the still, before a corn flour and oatmeal paste is applied to seal the still joints to avoid alcohol loss. In order to determine the cut points, the distiller would throw a sample of the spirit onto the still and observe if it caught fire.

The earliest official records, at the time of writing, reveal that the first place poitín was distilled was in early Irish monastic settlements like Glendalough in the sixth century AD. Despite its heavy association with monks, the Church and the government took a very dim view of the spirit, and soon major legislative crackdowns on poitín production were commonplace.

After centuries of vilification and illicit distilation in hiding, legal production for export purposes was finally made legal in Ireland in 1987. Initially this was just for Oliver Dillon, from Bunratty Winery, but in 1989 the law was expanded. It wasn't until 1997 that the Irish Revenue Commissioners finally allowed the drink to be sold for consumption within Ireland. In 2008 it was granted Geographical Indicative Status by the EU.

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