Poitín, a traditional and once illegal homebrew high volume spirit, has recently been reincarnated not only in Ireland, but as a brand worldwide. As with many products such as coffee and dark chocolate, it has a story, indeed a history, that has enabled it to adapt to modern life. With this in mind I decided to speak to Dave Mulligan, from Bán Poitín, about their recent endeavour, a pop-up poitín bar – 1661 – which opened for the months of October and November in Dame Lane in Dublin City Centre.
FFT.ie: So why poitín?
Dave Mulligan: Poitín is often an after thought for bartenders in Ireland. They always have one to fill the space but the reality is the depth and breath of the category lends itself to all different styles of cocktails. We import all these white spirits that poitín can fill the same space, that’s what we are trying to show.
Why opt for a pop-up instead of a more stable pub? Is this a tester for things to come?
I live in London, so a permanent bar wasn’t an option. That being said, I really wasn’t expecting the reaction we’ve received, both from the press and our customers. A lot of people have asked why we wouldn’t go permanent so there is definitely food for thought for 2018.
Dame Lane is a great location – why did you pick there specifically?
A good friend of mine has just relaunched Berlin Cafe in Dame Lane. When he showed me the site I asked him about the basement and while he has big plans it was vacant until December, I pitched the idea and he loved it.
Poitín has been revamped recently, and legally – how has it progressed from the ‘paint stripper’ image that the has haunted the spirit for much of the 20th century?
I have to say this paint stripper thing is a little offensive to the craft that came before. I hear it all the time and when questioned people have either never tried it or tasted it when they were too young to be really drinking spirits. Chances are if you give a 16 year old the finest cognacs, whiskies or poitíns they are still going to think it’s rocket fuel as their pallet hasn’t matured enough for big spirit. Poitín’s history is more about making it for your family and friends, not the commercial enterprise you may be led to believe. Like most things, when your reputation is at stake you’ll always do the best of your ability, that’s human nature and the poitín maker of old is no different.
How flexible is poitín as a drink? Can it be used in cocktails?
The great thing about legal poitín is we have four different styles beginning to emerge, each lending itself to a different type of mixology. We’ve got the Cork crew with their light approachable malt style, Connemara is producing what they always did in a full flavoured but unchallenging liquid while the whiskey boys are starting to release their white whiskies, the spirit before it hits the wood. At Bán we do things our way, we are probably the most challenging of the bunch, but we use the most ingredients and won’t change our style of distilling for no one.
What types of poitín do you have in stock and where is it made?
The Echlinville Distillery in Co. Down are partners in this brand and an integral part of what we do. Farmers by nature, we grow and malt our own barley while sourcing the best potatoes and molasses we can find. Currently we are about to release liquid number 3, an extension of our Barrelled and Buried series. It’s a heated cask and ready to release in time for national Poitín Day on the 19th of November.
What types of customers are you hoping to attract?
We’re still very focused on the on trade. It’s all about building relationships with bartenders and getting them to understand what Bán is about. If they get our ethos and want to work with us – great – they can then be the facilitator to educate the public while making up their own libations.
What plans do you have for the future?
Poitín has been my professional life for nearly six years now and I don’t intend to stop. I’ll be singing this same song for years to come and will stop at nothing until we have an industry worthy of carrying poitín’s great legacy into the future. The amazing thing about the legal distillers is we are all friends and help each other out as much as possible, I don’t think there is another industry like it.
Tell me about the opening.
We opened on the day of The Irish Whiskey Awards, the 19th of October and closed the day of Whiskey Live Dublin, 25th of November. There was something too tempting about hijacking the two biggest dates in the Irish Whiskey Calendar to promote poitín, historically we didn’t always get along.