Thursday, April 10, 2014

Glendalough Poitín: Revival of a lost spirit!

By Catherine L Luke

Poitín is as true and original an Irish whiskey as the heart and soul of the people who have kept it alive despite all the reasons it might have disappeared forever. The making of poitín is an old tradition that was once passed from father to son for a long, long time.  Recipes and reputations were crafted throughout generations of its distillation.  Over time, poitín gained many admirers and a good name.  People all around Ireland learned how to make it.

In 1661 King Charles outlawed the making of poitín.  It would remain illegal for over three-hundred years.  Once its ban was in place, families who decided to continue distilling in remote locations out of the prying eyes of the law.

This wasn’t an easy route.  British tax men and their armies found and stomped out small distilleries.  At a time communal fines were introduced whereas the entire communities were fined if a still was found within the townland.  There were shoot-offs and many tales of struggle, defeat, and courage in defense of this expression of heritage.  In the end, poitín is still alive and kickin’, so one must believe that despite much adversity, poitín and its people have won.

One of the few spirited crafters supporting the health of poitín is Glendalough Poitín, from the Glendalaugh Valley in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin.  Glendalough Poitín is the work of five Irish guys who grew up hearing the stories of the famed spirit.  They’ve put their efforts into to reviving and perfecting a very old recipe. 

That old recipe has, as of very recently, made its way to the U.S. market.  I had the chance to talk with Donal O’Gallachoir, one of the local guys behind of Glendalough Poitín.  Donal gained experience in the whiskey industry while working  for large whiskey brands, but made a decision to leave that behind and veer towards bringing back craft and independent distilling to Ireland.  He says there for a long time there was a focus on one mainstream style of Irish Whiskey from a couple of large distilleries, we want to take it in another direction to show the old craft style of distilling in Ireland and bring back some of these stories and this heritage. This, in part, is what convinced Donal and his friends that it was time to bottle and sell their own.

Donal and his partners were inspired by a local hero, St. Kevin.  St. Kevin was born into nobility, though left
the path that was expected of him to move to the woods where he lived as a lover of freedom and the natural world .  St. Kevin’s independent spirit drew people to him.  He fell into the role of leader of the people who had followed him to settle the glen.  There, St. Kevin became a monk and it is in these monastic settlements where the birth of distilling happened. His image is found on Glendalough Poitín’s bottle as his legend embodies all that is important to the brand.

And how about the recipe?  Much of its magic is in the technique.  Its base includes potato, barley, and Irish sugar beet.  Batches are made slowly and small.  They are batched distilled in a small pot-still, lending a unique character to each batch.  Three poitíns are made- two clear, and one aged in sherry oak casks.  Aging of the clear styles takes place in Irish oak casks that once held dry goods.

Glendalough is best served straight.  But for the cocktail-lover, it can do many things.  Donal says that it’s hard to mask the flavor of poitín, but easy to compliment it.  Here he has shared a few recipes created by a two talented mixologists during a Dublin cocktail competition.

“The Monk” (By Michal Lis, Gibson Hotel)
Glass: coupe glass
1 1/2 oz Glandalough Poitín
1/4 oz Fratelli d'Italia Amaretto
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Syrup
3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Garnish: orange peel & Maraschino cherries

*Shake and strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.  A little orange zest over this one is a nice touch.

“Dubliners” (By Edvinas Rudzinskas, 4 Seasons Monaghan)
Glass: Champagne coupe glass
1 oz Glendalough Poitín
1/2 oz Irish whiskey
1/2 oz Monin Gingerbread Syrup
1/2 oz Fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz egg white
Garnish: Cinnamon stick, vanilla pod, and orange peel

*Put all the makings into cocktail shaker and dry shake or whip.  And afterward, shake with ice (if you dry shake first, it’s better for your egg white foam).  Then double strain into chilled champagne coupe glass.  Garnish it with cinnamon stick, vanilla pod, and orange peel flowers, if you have the wherewithal.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Catherine lives in Brooklyn, and has worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and NYC. She is certified by the WSET, as well as the school of "wine in real life".  Understanding the patchwork of little-known Italian regional wines, dishes, and customs excites her most of all. She (sometimes) muses on her blog GrapesofCath.

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