On a warm Tuesday in early April, we bottled the first spirit ever distilled at Blackwater Distillery. It had been in wood for 8 weeks.

Bottle of Poteen
Bottle of Poteen

Interestingly this spirit didn’t start life as an Irish Poteen, because when we fired up the stills on that cold February morning the GI, or bible for this most abused of spirits, hadn’t been finalised. But now it has and after decades of neglect like it or not, we have a definition to work with.

The wash is moved into the still house.
The wash is moved into the still house.

So what is a Poteen? According to the Technical File published by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Poteen ‘is a spirit distilled on the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, traditionally brewed, fermented and distilled from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beet molasses and potatoes.’

If you go back far enough, the only difference between Irish Whiskey and Poteen was that tax was paid on the former and not the latter. Subsequently, both drinks went their separate ways, with whiskey being made exclusively from grain, and in later years Poteen being made mostly from molasses.

In 1997 Revenue withdrew their objection to the term ‘Poteen’ being used for a duty paid spirit, and in the absence of a legal definition for ‘Poteen’, all kinds of snake-bite promising all kinds of nonsense was wheeled out for sale.

Illegal since 1661! Now legal! Wrong.

Traditionally made from potatoes/whey/Leprechaun farts – wrong/wrong/possibly wrong.

For now all you need to know is that just about everything you can read on-line about Poteen is a load of dogs janglers.

So what is our Poteen? Well it’s made from a hop-free oatmeal stout, brewed for us in January by the Dungarvan Brewing Company. It contains local barley, Flahavan’s oats and a smidgen of molasses. So unlike many commercial ‘Poteens’ there is no grain neutral alcohol distilled to 96% abv, because let’s face it, yer man with the flat cap would have had a fierce hard time dragging a column still, strapped to the arse of a donkey, into the wild and lawless hills.

1st distillation
1st distillation

In other words our Poteen was made in a simple copper pot still from ingredients that would represent best practice. The spirit was distilled twice and then put into a small Spanish wooden yolk that used to contain a sweetened wine. Now this last part is not very traditional. Moonshiners didn’t hang onto stock, they shifted it quickly. But under this new definition it is possible to put Poteen into wood for up to 10 weeks. This is potentially exciting as it gives distillers a whole range of possible wood finishes to play with, however as a lot of the Poteen Technical File is obsessed with what kind of drink Poteen isn’t, rather than is, ‘wood’ comes with the kinds of terms and conditions that would make the Financial Regulator blush.

For a start you can’t ‘mature’ Poteen, or name check the wood, or even mention ‘casks’ or ‘ageing’, furthermore any information on this part of the process is relegated to the back label.

Like every Poteen currently on the market, our spirit started life before the publication of the new Technical File but none the less we will be guided by it, and as this blog might be seen as ‘marketing/promotional’, we won’t be any more specific about the kind of wood our Poteen was stored/held in. Except to say, we put the spirit into wood for one very good reason. Taste. Not to confuse people. Not to pass off our spirit as Irish Whiskey. We simply thought a brief spell in a wooden yolk that used to contain a sweetened wine, would round out the flavours. Also we don’t think consumers are a bunch of thick eejits who can’t tell their collective arses from their collective elbows. Even if there is an executive with a multi-national distilling conglomerate who recently opened a new distillery who doesn’t like us very much and clearly has great difficulty understanding what an Irish Whiskey is. So I will write this slowly, as I suspect the person in question can’t read very quickly: This is not an Irish Whiskey. There. Happy now? NOT A WHISKEY.

Decanting sherry from our new sherry mini-butts
Read my lips. ‘Not a whiskey!’

After 8 weeks in wood ‘The Spirit of West Waterford’ (as we like to call it) was simply strained, brought to bottling strength with virgin’s tears and bottled. No colour, no chill filtering, no nothing else. So our Poteen is slightly opaque and just bursting with flavour.

Virgin's tears are hard to work with
Virgin’s tears are hard to work with

This Poteen has been made for The West Waterford Festival of Food and to be honest, if you want to taste it, best get to Dungarvan. We only managed to produce 100 bottles, but we’ll be back for more sometime in the Autumn. In the meantime, you can taste and buy from the cask (how cool is that) at the festival, and we are releasing a very limited amount of bottles into the wild.

But we will do it again. It’s that bloody good.

Bloody good and served from the cask!
Bloody good and served from the cask!