Knockeen Hills:Irish Poteen. Triple and Quadruple Distilled
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26/02/2007 by James Oliver Curry

St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing: green everything. Green clothes, green food, and worst of all, green beer. Surprisingly, while we're all embracing the same hue on March 17, we're not all drinking the same stuff around the country. An informal poll of U.S. bars and restaurants with the word "Irish" in them revealed that the beverage of choice differs from region to region.

At the Liffey Irish Pub in St. Paul, MN, Guinness stout is the bestseller by a mile, followed by other Irish beers such as Harp and Smithwick's. (175 W. Seventh St., St. Paul, MN; 651-556-1420; www.theliffey.com)

In Rockaway Beach, Queens, New Irish Circle maitre d' Karen Slattery says many folks order Black and Tans, an equal mix of stout and ale (Guinness and Bass, to be specific). "But we also sell more Guinness and Bushmills and Jameson around St. Patrick's Day than we do the whole rest of the year," she adds. (10119 Rockaway Beach Blvd at 102 St., Queens, NY; 718-474-9002)

Patrons start lining up at 6 a.m. in front of Molly Malone's Irish Pub in Los Angeles to have Irish Car Bombs — basically boilermakers in which a shot glass of Baileys is dropped into a pint glass filled with Guinness stout and Jameson whiskey. In years past, bartender Anette Karaskiewicz has seen men come in for a morning sip, go to work, return midday for a lunch break, stumble back to work, and then swing by for a few drinks before going home. (575 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; 323-935-1577; www.mollymalonesla.com)

The only authentically Irish spirit that bartenders never seem to mention is poteen, a form of moonshine that was outlawed in Ireland in 1760 — but which has been legally reintroduced in recent years (it was banned because the Irish government had trouble collecting taxes on it, not because the stuff was dangerous to drink).

Two companies, Knockeen Hills (www.irish-poteen.com) and Bunratty (homepage.eircom.net/~bunrattywinery), sell the high-octane hooch (also known as potcheen, potheen, and poitin). Distribution in the U.S. is limited but we managed to get our hands on both products: The Knockeen, a 100-proof spirit, had a sweet bouquet reminiscent of dried fruit and pistachios, a slight sweetness on the tip of the tongue, and a warm vanilla finish (the company is also planning to introduce a new 110-proof bottle this fall). The Bunratty, on the other hand, is 90 proof, and evoked cough medicine - sort of cherry meets turpentine.

Still interested? If so, call your local liquor shop and ask if they stock any potcheen; some older vintages may still be gathering dust in shop corners. Another option: Rich Stadnik, the president of Pup's Cider Company (www.pupscider.com), which imports Knockeen Hills, believes some bartenders may still be making their own potcheen or importing real-deal rotgut from the motherland. He suggests going to Irish bars late at night and making friends with the proprietors. They may just offer you a quick sip from under the bar.

Dominick Kenny, owner of the Irish Immigrant Pub in New Bedford, MA, thinks this is rubbish. "Nobody brings that stuff back now," he says. "If I went back to Ireland, that wouldn't be something I'd look to bring back with me. They don't do that anymore." (818 Kempton St., New Bedford, MA; 508-993-0990).

When in doubt, stick with Guinness. Just steer clear of green beer.

- James Oliver Cury