Time for another alternative to your daily staple of whiskey and whisky, and once again, we are heading to County Down, notorious for its whiskey and poitín alike. This is where arguably one of the original and trailblazing poitíns was thrust into the limelight as a new contender for Ireland’s most popular drink. Echlinville is well known for its whiskey, as reviewed here many times. However, they are lesser-known for “the daddy of all whiskey,” Bán, their Poitín.
I first came across Bán Poitín when I was relatively new to whiskey and ashamedly purchased the bottle solely because I liked its looks (I still do!). It remained unopened for some time until I finally decided to crack its seal. Annoyingly I didn’t take any notes regarding it, but being the Barrelled and Buried, it was the ‘one-up’ from the one I will be reviewing, the standard Bán. As you will recall from my previous poitín reviews, horror stories from my father and lighting it to see what colour the flame burned were ingrained in my mind; hence the lengthy period the bottle remained on my shelf.
Bán founder and poitín advocate Dave Mulligan has said, “I want to be the man who brought poitín out from under the bar,” possibly referring to its previous illegality. Still, I prefer to think of it as a symbolic thrusting of the drink into the attention of Ireland and the world. His drumbeat was louder than anyone else’s back in 2015 and has wholly dictated the beat to which everyone marched. His pioneering has seen the likes of Brendan from Killowen, Michael from Baoilleach and Pádraic from Micil all producing quality poitíns that have indeed ensured the notorious white spirit is given the respect it truly deserves and the attention it now has.
Dave, since the release of Bán, has certainly not sat on the laurels of his critically acclaimed Bán Poitín. He subsequently opened a bar in Dublin, aptly named ‘1661’ (commemorating when poitín was outlawed in Ireland), which pays homage to Ireland’s most native drink. Having spoken to him recently, there are no plans to stop whilst he is ahead; Dave is planning another launch of Bán soon, much to the appreciation of avid poitín fans across the island.
So, the poitín itself then. The mash is a mixture of potato, malted barley and sugar beets, with no indication of the percentages of each. The mash may make some traditionalists groan with disdain; however, due to the disputably erroneous poitín technical file, it’s totally acceptable. It’s bottled at a tame (with respect to Poitín) 48% at the Echlinville Distillery, County Down. It’s described as a ‘pot still spirit’, referring to the small pot still used by “Irish Poteen/Irish Poitín” distillers. Various stills have been used since 1997; the size of the still used in the production process helps impart a distinctive flavour and aroma profile to the “Irish Poteen/Irish Poitín”. It has been double distilled and has had no maturation period. The bottle is seriously eye-catching; embossed glass with a wax-dripped top gives it a top-class finish and unique feel. This hasn’t been a rushed project.
Price: £37 (if you can find one anywhere now…)
Nose: A healthy dose aniseed followed by the unmistakeable poitín earthiness of dug-up wet soil. There’s a balance of freshness from the lemongrass and the sweetness of the lemon Chantilly cream. The savoury aspect is splendid too, with fresh sourdough bread, German rye and toasted pumpernickel.
Palate: The spice is just so absorbing. Initially, it begins as a cinnamon bomb but quickly dissipates to give more of a prickly warmth of pink peppercorns and a little nutmeg. The oily texture reminds me of dark bitter chocolate, laced with chilli, paired with a strong milky latte—more espresso notes towards the end.
Finish: A delicious warmth coating the entirety of the mouth with another blast of cinnamon for good measure.
The Barrel & Buried was the first poitín I had ever tried, and whilst I could not appreciate the spirit, at least; I could fully appreciate the legacy and history behind the spirit. Over time, my poitín palate has fully developed, and I can now enjoy the spirit in all its splendour. This has led me to know that this is a quality poitín, unlike any I have tried before. The mash bill is different and adds a different dimension to this, sweetness and spice in perfect balance. Some people will tend to stay clear of poitín due to its traditional strength and unique flavour that doesn’t suit their palates, but this is different. The 48% is a tad light but would suit those dipping their toes in the poitín pool. I would, however, like to see a cask/still strength release.
If you’re in Dublin, it’s well worth giving Bar 1661 a visit. Having not visited there, I’m reliably informed that they produce some epic cocktails. Maybe a ‘Destinations’ review for the Water of Life is in order!
Alongside the booming Irish whiskey market, poitín is rightfully standing on the podium with them. I can’t help but feel it has resulted from people like Dave, Brendan, Padraic and Michael. They strive to unearth archived recipes, drive to create unique and mouth-watering spirits and revive Ireland’s most popular and ancient drink.