Skip to main content

Say Hello to Poitín: Irish Moonshine (and One of the Strongest Drinks on the Planet!)

connacht whiskey co poitin mullarkey s bar straw boys
Ah, moonshine. The name evokes images of the backwoods, of whiskey runners dodging the government, of stills patched together, and mason jars of clear liquid passed around for the enjoyment of all. Maybe even, for the hardcore, going blind from the stuff.

Here in the US, we’ve had a moonshine moment. In 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council, white/corn whiskey sold 2.2 million 9-liter cases, making it the second largest group, behind bourbon/Tennessee whiskey (which had 17.4 million of the 20.4 million cases sold).

It might not be a surprise, but we weren’t the first ones to be making moonshine. The fellows who first started making whiskey in the hinterlands of Appalachia and elsewhere had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere happened to be Ireland (and Scotland, but we’re focusing on Ireland here). For centuries, the Irish have been making their own moonshine, which they call poitín.


The word poitín comes from the diminutive word for pot, as the liquid was (and still is) made in a little copper pot still. Pronounced by various people as po-teen, po-cheen, or pu-cheen, poitín has been made in the bog lands and backwoods of Ireland for centuries (though not legally until 1997) and passed around in just about the exact same way that people today share true moonshine.

(Funny how drinking traditions can be the same, regardless of place and time, isn’t it?)

Made primarily from barley or potatoes, the proof ranges widely—from as low as 40% ABV all the way up to 90 or 95% ABV.

You read that right. Ninety-five percent alcohol by volume. The high end possibility here is what makes it capable of being the strongest drink on the planet. It’s easy to see why, for centuries, it was illegal to produce (what with the literally having the ability to make you sick and all).

Now, though, the times they are a-changing and, slowly, Irish whiskey companies have been putting out their own poitíns. Most aren’t for sale in the US, but Connacht Whiskey Company, based two and a half hours west of Dublin in Ballina, has begun to import their Straw Boys Poitín. Made from malted barley in the traditional small copper pot still, Straw Boys Poitín is nowhere near the strength of the stuff you’d find wandering the bogs of Ireland (it comes in at 45% ABV), but hey, if you’re going to start drinking a new spirit, it’s probably for the best to start on the easier stuff. At the very least, you’ll get to actually taste it, instead of becoming violently ill by downing something made almost completely from alcohol.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
You can now get this Michelin-quality beef delivered to your home
Herd & Grace delivers high-quality Australian beef to the comfort of your home.
Herd&Grace tomahawk steak on board.

Cape Grim Grass Fed Tomahawk Ribeye.

While America might be infamous for its red meat culture of steaks, burgers, and world-class Texas brisket, it's not the only country with amazing beef. With their vast landscapes and pristine environments, Australia and Tasmania produce some of the highest-quality beef and lamb in the world — and with a different ecosystem and a unique method of cattle rearing, Australian beef is in a league of its own.

Read more
Learn these amazing spring cooking tricks from a Michelin Star chef
Spring is an exciting time but we don't always know what to cook this time of year. Here are some expert ideas
Chef Vikas Khanna

Spring is an exciting time for eaters. More and more fresh produce shows up at the market and store and the days begin to beg for lunches at the park and evening dinner parties. But it's not always simple to know what's in season and how to maximize flavors during these months that guide us toward summer.

One thing we do know is that we love a good spring cocktail, like a Cherry Blossom Sour, during the spring season. There are more spring fruits and vegetables to work with than you might think, and the warmer weather thaws the soul.

Read more
It’s time to learn about bourbon — here’s your guide
Put down the IPA and meet the actual coolest drink in town — bourbon
Boubon in a glass

Hello class, and welcome to Bourbon 101. Don't worry; we're not like those other schools where you aren't allowed to drink during class. We're cool. Now, get your notebooks and a glass of whiskey ready because it's time to dive into the history of this America's spirit.

It would be hard to find something more American than bourbon, except for maybe a bald eagle draped in an American flag with a baseball and an apple pie clutched in its talons. In any case, the history of bourbon follows the highs and lows of our country as a whole with good times, great times, and really bad times. It was built with ingenuity in a time of great hardship and flourished despite the best efforts of outside forces.
What exactly is bourbon?
It's time to dive into a little American history here. Look, even if you weren't a fan of history class, this is a pretty fun subject. In case you're unaware, bourbon is highly regulated by the government in nearly every way (and that's a good thing). To be legally called "bourbon," there are several rules that need to be followed:

Read more