St. Patrick’s Day is almost here so it’s time for an Irish-inspired cocktail! I wanted the fun of a green drink, while still keeping things interesting and my ingredients all natural.
This riff on the modern classic Basil Smash substitutes poitín (Irish moonshine) for gin, and a luxurious honey syrup for simple syrup. With spring just around the corner, lemon and honey are a great flavor combination.
The nearly neon green color of this drink is all natural, thanks to basil! And since fresh basil leaves are plentiful at grocery stores year round, you can make this very bright and refreshing sipper any time.
What is poitín?
Poitín, also called potcheen or poteen, is an Irish spirit traditionally made covertly in small pots stills on rural farms. It was originally made from a mash of malted grains, like barley or wheat. Today it can be made from grains, potatoes, or sugar beets.
And although poitín is now produced commercially in Ireland, it was illegal from 1661 until 1997. The government wanted to tax alcohol, and taxing something made and sold in secret was no easy task.
So poitin went completely underground for hundreds of years, where the outlaw homemade spirit was known for its potency and at times, health risks.
Like American moonshine, the stories of bad batches causing blindness and other unfortunate side effects are common – as well as tales of successful family businesses operating in secrecy for generations.
While legal, commercially-produced poitín is safe to consume and many producers follow old family recipes, some say it’s not really poitín if you can buy it in a store (like moonshine).
Thankfully for those of us who don’t know a guy, you can now buy poitín in stores, and even in the US! I had never heard of or tried it until 2019, when I partnered with the poitín brand Mad March Hare on a cocktail recipe for Instagram. I was immediately fascinated by this unusual spirit with its colorful history and bold flavor.
What does poitín taste like?
Mad March Hare Poitín is very high quality, made with 100% malted barley. Being that it’s the only poitín I’ve tasted, and it doesn’t really taste like American unaged white whiskey (aka “moonshine”), I wasn’t sure what to compare it to.
What’s interesting is that the nose is a bit misleading. My first whiff reminded me a bit of grassy white rums or even cachaca, but the taste heads a different direction and is sweeter than you would expect. I came across some tasting notes from Christopher Null at DrinkHacker that I think explain it perfectly, so I wanted to share a direct quote here:
“The nose is classic poitin — rubbery, with notes of diesel fuel, ultra-ripe fruit, and weedy vegetation. That sounds a lot worse than it is — poitin is always a monster of a spirit, a white whiskey with nothing held back, and as such it’s a bit of an acquired taste. The palate is gentler than that lead-up would indicate, with notes of fresh, sweet cereal — almost like kettle corn — plus a smattering of much more gentle fruit notes that lead to a slightly leathery finish. It’s a sweet relief from a somewhat off-putting nose, but again, such is the world of poitin.”– Christopher Null, via DrinkHacker.com.
Rubbery diesel with overripe fruit and weedy vegetation – yes, that’s it! It might not sound super appealing, but it’s really quite good, and I highly recommend giving Mad March Hare a try this St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s not quite like anything else I’ve had before, and it’s bold flavors are tamed just enough by this mix of lemon, honey, and herbs to make for a great cocktail. Have you tried poitín before?
- Fresh lemon juice
- Honey syrup
- Fresh basil leaves
To get a vibrant green color, you want to vigorously muddle the basil leaves. Add the basil leaves and lemon juice to your shaker and muddle until the liquid is bright green.
Next, add the remaining ingredients and ice and shake until chilled. Fine strain (use a fine mesh strainer) to keep little bits of basil out of your drink. Garnish with basil leaves or blossoms, if you have them, and enjoy!
You might also enjoy:
Poitín Basil Smash
- 2 oz poitín (I used Mad March Hare)
- ¾ oz honey syrup (recipe in Notes)
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- 10 basil leaves
- Thoroughly muddle the basil leaves with the lemon juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. The more you muddle, the more flavorful (and green) the drink will be.
- Add the remaining ingredients and fill the shaker ¾ with ice. Shake until chilled, then fine strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with basil leaves or a basil blossom.