Alcohol in some form has been imbibed for thousands of years, but it hasn’t always been as classy and refined as it is today. Back before there were breweries and distillers, there were moon shiners. In pre-1800 America, the most popular form of moonshine was sweet fermented cider. Today we would call this hard cider.
Early Americans also made their own mead and wine. In the late 1700’s, alcohol consumption was twice it is today. Around this same time, home made whiskey and grain alcohol were becoming the beverages of choice in many southern and rural areas, specifically Appalachia. When the Volstead Act (18th Amendment to the constitution) was passed to begin prohibition in 1919, moonshine was the only kind of alcohol people could get their hands on. Moonshine production continued after prohibition ended in 1933.
The U.S. isn’t the only country with a long history of moonshine production, though. Moonshine in Ireland has much longer and traditional history. Potcheen (or poteen) is the traditional Irish form of moonshine. Just like American moonshine, it is commonly distilled in a home made pot and still. It’s made from water and malted barley grain or potatoes.
Potcheen is famous because people claim that they can get intoxicated again the morning after imbibing just from drinking water. Supposedly the water mixes with the ethanol in your system and kick starts the buzz again. Due to Potcheen’s stigma of extremely high alcohol content and legends surrounding its effects, it was outlawed in 1661. Perhaps this was the first ever Four Loko in World history?
It wasn’t until 1997 that Irish lawmakers made the sale of Potcheen legal again. The odd thing is that you couldn’t sell it in the Republic of Ireland until 1997, yet you could ship it out to other countries starting in 1989. So, it was ok if other people went blind from drinking moonshine, but not people in Ireland. It is still currently illegal in Northern Ireland, but that doesn’t stop people from making and selling it.
Just like American Moonshines, Potcheen was and is produced in a remote, rural setting. Stills are set up at the end of land boundaries so that nobody can prove who owns them if Johnny Law comes sniffing around. Also like American moonshines, home made Potcheen quality varies depending on who makes it. If the distiller doesn’t know exactly what he or she is doing, high levels of methanol can blind or kill those who drink it.
Lucky for you, you can still try Potcheen without fear of death or blindness. At least two brands of Potcheen are available in the U.S. They are Bunratty Potcheen and Knockeen Hills Irish Poteen. Bunratty is distilled by Bunratty Mead and Liqueur Co. Ltd. of County Clare, Ireland. Surprisingly, it is only 90 proof. Knockeen Hills is a little more like what you might find in a random farmhouse in the Irish countryside. The green is 101 proof, the gold is 140 proof and the black is a very scary 180 proof.
Potcheen is very similar in flavor to vodka so it can be enjoyed on its own or in any combination that you would normally use vodka. Personally, I would probably go with Potcheen and tonic with a slice of lime.