As more poitín brands dip a toe into the market, the Glendalough guys have gone all-in by expanding their single bottling into a whole family. The two new spirits share the original's recipe of malted barley and sugar beet, launched last December. They are also matured in the same way, for up to six months with virgin Irish oak.
The original bottling appeared at an accessible 40% ABV. The first new variation steps that up considerably.
Glendalough Mountain Strength Poitín
Those mountain folk don't hold with watering down the hooch, it would seem, because "mountain strength" is 60% ABV. As Glendalough's Dónal Ó Gallachóir pointed out to me, traditional poitín is double distilled in pots, a process that would naturally top out somewhere in the 60s.
Dónal kindly poured me a sample as we talked. Since it wasn't under lab conditions I won't attempt tasting notes but the higher alcohol has intensified the complex notes of the original, without blowing them away. It has a really long and pleasing finish.
Glendalough Sherry Cask Finish Poitín
This one is back down to 40%, but it adds an extra six months' "finishing" in a sherry cask. Not a full-sized sherry butt, but a cut down version, with extra internal staves. This greatly increases the surface area of wood that the spirit is exposed to.
One obvious effect of this is a very healthy colour which, I am told, is entirely due to the cask. No caramel has been added.
The other effect is on taste. The wood influence has really narrowed the flavour gap with whiskey. Again, I just had a brief taste, but my impression was of a drink that would be perfectly palatable neat, or on ice.
The future for poitín
Clearly poitín can go places that Irish whiskey cannot. It doesn't have to be entirely grain-based, so unusual ingredients like sugar beet - a very important Irish crop in times past - can get a look in. It doesn't have to hang around in a warehouse for any specific length of time (whiskey requires ageing for at least 3 years). It can be matured in a wooden cask, or with wooden chips, or it can be bottled straight from the still. It's an interesting space for companies like Glendalough to explore.
It's a tough marketing task though, to build a category as well as a brand. Poitín has been successfully demonised by both Church and State so its image, now that it is once more legal to make, needs some rehabilitation.
Then we need to learn how to drink it. We seem to be developing a cocktail scene in Dublin, which comes just at the right time for poitín. To speed things along, Glendalough is sponsoring a poitín cocktail contest for Ireland's professional mixologists.
Glendalough is already on pour in a score of bars and restaurants around Dublin and is stocked in the well-known indy off-licences. The original edition goes for €30-€35, the Sherry Finish is €33-€37, and the Mountain Strength is €39-€44.
There will be a chance to sample the Glendalough range at this week's Little Talk at W.J. Kavanagh's, in Dorset Street.