Ice, ice baby: poitín gets a cool makeover

The much-maligned spirit is in line for an overhaul. Jonathan deBurca Butler had a go with the cocktail shaker

THE Dublin Bar Academy is a sleek, gallery-like space on Francis Street. Its clean and modern setting is a far cry from the dark mountain shebeens and dingy stills traditionally associated with the drink I have come here to sample and make cocktails from tonight. Poitín is Ireland’s oldest spirit, having been distilled from as early as the 6th century. It is also probably its most notorious.

“Although much of it is fairly recent, it’s had a bit of a bad rap down the years,” says Domhnall O’Gallachoir of Glendalough Poitín. “Because peasants could make and sell poitín, it gave them a bit of independence from their landlords which the Crown didn’t like. So in the 17th century they gave licences to the people they wanted to and kept others out. That meant that many producers went underground and of course, governments, whether they were Irish or British, didn’t get any revenue from it, so they basically tried to slate it.”

As O’Gallachoir tells me the story behind the spirit, he pours a good measure into a wine glass and warms the glass with his hands. I am normally not a spirit drinker and as he invites me to taste it neat I am somewhat apprehensive. On sipping it, I am pleasantly surprised however. Granted, it is quite strong but far more subtle than any fiery whiskey I have tried. It has far more flavour than vodka and its texture is silky smooth. Even its aroma is inviting and all told it is nowhere near as violent as I thought it was going to be. With my appetite now suitably whetted, I’m now looking forward to getting busy on the cocktails.

Our instructor for the night is academy owner Richard Linden. Linden has been mixing cocktails for 15 years. Having studied in his native Sweden, he came to Ireland seven years ago. Passionate about his craft, this latest venture has been open since March and offers various courses to the discerning barman or cocktail maker. Tonight it’s all about teaching me, a novice, how to make poitín cocktails.

“Well you’ll see that poitín has more flavour and character than the likes of vodka,” he says. “It’s actually quite sweet. We’re working with an unaged spirit tonight so what we want to do is capture the flavour. We don’t want to mask it, so it’s not about covering it up. We want to highlight its flavour.”

Our first cocktail is a Blueberry Mint Julep. Richard tells me to take half a Boston glass of crushed ice and place it on the bar in front of me. This first step is more complicated than you might think, particularly with other students looking on, and it takes me a few goes. Next, I take a few mint leaves and give them a slap. This apparently releases the flavour but has the added effect of making me feel a bit silly. We then add lime juice, sugar syrup, blueberries and a good measure of Glendalough Poitín. A shaker is then placed over the glass.

According to Richard the shaking should be done over the shoulder and the grip should be like that of a good rugby scrum half. He tells me to be vigorous. And though I take his advice on board, I am careful not to let the whole thing land on my head; the earlier ice debacle was embarrassing enough.

After doing my best impression of Tom Cruise, I pour a milky violet liquid into a tumbler with crushed ice and garnish it with mint. It has taken me a good seven minutes to produce this drink but the result is a revelation and it only takes me two minutes to drink it.


Poitín Sour

This is like a Boston sour but made with Glendalough Poitín, some lime juice, simple syrup and egg white. Make sure you give it a good shake. A cherry can be added for a little colour and flavour or a slice of lemon which adds a touch of acidity to tickle the tastebuds.

Blueberry Mint Julep

ake a few mint leaves and give them a slap which releases the flavour. Then add lime juice, a good dash of simple a good dash ofsugar syrup, a handful of some blueberries and a good measure of Glendalough Poitín. Again shake vigorously. Then pour the milky violet liquid into a tumbler with crushed ice, garnish it with the mint and enjoy.


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