Monday, March 23, 2009

Personal Ramblings - "Poteen Making"

When I was in Ireland last year I had a shot of Poteen or Potcheen (Irish moonshine aka White Lightning in the US), well okay I had a few shots or drops of the cratur. Apparently my grandfather used to produce and sell it in the early 1900's. One of my cousins was very knowledgeable on the topic and shared some stories about it. I recently discovered this documentary about it.

Here is the synopsis of the film "Poteen Making":

In almost every country youll find an alcoholic drink which is illegally made. In Ireland its Poitín or Poteen - a clear and potent unmatured whiskey that has been made here illegally for at least 200 years. Though no written proof exists from before the late 16th century, it is widely accepted that uisce beatha originated in Ireland sometime toward the end of the first millennium. It is said that in the 12th century, soldiers of Henry II encountered the fiery spirit during the Norman invasion of Ireland but unable to pronounce the word uisce beatha, anglicised it to whiskey.

By at least the 17th century whiskey-making was commonplace in Ireland. In rural parts almost everyone distilled and consumed their own while at the same time there was likely to be at least one small distillery in each town. For some Christmas Day 1661 marks the beginning of the long history of illicit distillation in Ireland as taxation on alcohol, at a rate of four pence per gallon of spirit, was first introduced by the British Government on that date and applied to Ireland shortly after. Others trace the origins of illicit distillation to 1760 which was when the British Government supposedly outlawed private distillation; all distillers had to obtain a licence and this, the British hoped, would make it easier for their Excisemen or guagers as they were known, to collect the tax. Whether it all started in 1661 or 1760, Poteen, as the illicit whiskey became known, has been with us ever since (it found its way to the US and became moonshine).

However, like so many other things, Poteen-making was modernised in the middle of the 20th century. The modern Poteen-makers no longer had any use for the kiln, ruins of which are now the only visible pointers to the traditional craft of Poteen-making.

Poteen-Making is a one-hour documentary which traces the history of illicit whiskey distillation in Ireland and shows how Poteen, as the illicit whiskey became known, was traditionally made. In it there are stories and folklore associated with Poteen as well as an account of how Poteen-making was modernised during the 20th century and why the tradition of Poteen-making has declined in recent times.

You can read more and purchase a copy of it here....

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