Poitin and the origin of the Hot Whiskey.
Back as far as anyone can remember there has always been a traditional, profitable and highly illegal industry that takes place in Connemara. This industry produces the legendary Poitin (pronounced “pocheen”), an illicitly distilled spirit that is part of the legends, music and culture of the West Coast of Ireland. Since the parliament of 1556 passed a law that a license was required to distill spirits the Poteen makers have had to ply their trade in secret. Of course secrecy led to stories and stories grew to the legends which are told of this ancient and wonderful liquor. Tall tales about its curative properties and other benefits of taking “a drop of the quare stuff” range from sorting out a cold to resurrection!

In Connemara poitin was always produced in remote places hidden away from the sight of the law. The design of stills used for generations include of copper pipe and a small barrel in which the mash was heated.
This mash was created and fermented before distillation was started. Part of the skill of the distiller was
to get a good mash, usually made from barley, but in more recent times, some distillers deviated from using malted barley as a base of the mash due to the cost and availability, instead switching to using treacle, corn and potatoes. It is believed this switch has affected the quality and character of poitín in the late 20th century, and that the old recipes are best. Legend has it that the malted barley thrown out of the Guinness factory was acquired by poitin makers and produced a particularly good brew.
The location of the still was of great importance, it must be out of site and remote so that unwanted visitors could be spotted from afar, and the smoke from the fire might not be spotted, although windy weather was popular for the operation as it dissipated the smoke. Another essential was a stream with enough flow to cool the copper pipe (known as “the worm”) and condense the liquor coming off the still.
Things have not changed an awful lot over the years. Bottled gas means that the dreaded smoke rising is no longer a threat and there are more varied sources of mash. Modern plumbing supplies make the still easier to construct but distilling your own poitin remains just as illegal as it ever was.
What does it taste like? It ranges from an almost drinkable spirit to what can only be described as firewater. So I am told.
The Poitin trade is well summed up in the line from a great old Connemara song…
“Gather up your pots and yer old tin cans, the mash the corn, the barley and the bran
run like the devil from the excise man in the hills of Connemara!”

Poitin is a little rough as a drink, and it was often drank with a dash of hot water and a little sugar and sometimes cloves which was known as a toddy or a hot one. This held legendary medicinal properties and would be a favourite when cold or flue struck and also would could keep you warm on a cold evening
Hot Whiskey
The civilized descendant of this is a hot whisky which all of the Connemara bars will happily serve you, or you can make it yourself at home. It has the same curative properties if you have a cold, flu, aches and pains or have been out in chilly weather and need something to warm you up.


This is how it is made.

Put the kettle on and while it is boiling cut a thick slice of lemon. Stick three or four cloves through the lemon slice. Put a teaspoon into a tumbler and pour a small drop of hot water over it, this will warm the glass. Throw the water out and put a good teaspoon of sugar and the lemon slice into the glass and then some more hot water, leaving enough room for a good shot of whisky. Pour in the whisky (Powers, Paddy, Jameson) give it a quick stir and it is ready to drink.
One of these will warm you up and sort your cold or sore throat out, but beware, hot whisky can leave you good for nothing if you drink more than one or two!

 

“The Hills of Connemara” Recorded in a Connemara pub”.