Known as the uisce beatha, or \u201cwater of life,\u201d poitin (also called \u201cpotcheen\u201d or \u201cpoteen\u201d) is essentially Irish moonshine that\u2019s deeply rooted in the island\u2019s history and lore. The spirit\u2019s humble beginnings can be traced to sixth-century Christian monks who reportedly brought the art of distillation from the Middle East and created the potent brew. It\u2019s prevalent throughout Irish culture from songs like \u201cThe Rare Old Mountain Dew\u201d and traditional oral stories passed through the generations.\r\n\r\nPoitin is still served at important Irish occasions. From wakes to weddings, you\u2019ll likely find a bottle or two.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cI come from six generations of illicit poitin distillers,\u201d says P\u00e1draic \u00d3 Griallais, founder and director at Micil Distillery. \u201cI [learned] all the craft from my grandfather, and I was lucky to have grown up around him, otherwise the brand Micil\u2014named after my great-great-great-grandfather\u2014would never have been created or continued.\r\n\r\nI was lucky that my grandfather was a seanacha\u00ed (a storyteller/raconteur) as he made stories so engaging. It was hard not to love poitin, the craft, the heritage and the spirit in our family.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cPoitin is symbolic of Irish liberation and oppression at the same time.\u201d \u2013P\u00e1draic \u00d3 Griallais, founder/director, Micil Distillery\r\n\r\nDuring the 17th century, when Ireland was under British rule, the government tried to collect a tax on poitin. It was not an easy task: Distillers simply hid their bottles and denied its existence to tax collectors. So, in 1661, King Charles II banned the beloved spirit. Many believe the move was part of a bigger effort to repress Irish culture by the British.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s inextricably linked to Irish culture and pride, as it\u2019s hard to separate the two,\u201d says \u00d3 Griallais. \u201cPoitin is symbolic of Irish liberation and oppression at the same time. It was a drink that small farmers made that could help them pay the British landlords\u2019 rent\u2026 It was a way for the Irish people to express their irreverence towards the colonial British Empire.\u201d\r\n\r\nIts illegal status made poitin even more popular, and the spirit went underground.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nProduced primarily in rural Ireland, poitin was crafted in homes, sheds and in the woods. Many times, it was distilled intentionally on land boundaries\u2014if the illicit spirit was discovered by authorities, the issue of ownership could be disputed.\r\n\r\n\u201cPoitin may have disappeared from the mainstream, but was kept alive by a small group of artisans that plied their trade in the shadows,\u201d says John Ralph, CEO of Intrepid Spirits, which produces Mad March Hare Poit\u00edn. \u201cThe people who continued to make it at home were in fact experienced, skilled craftsman, or it was done as a collective effort by all the townspeople.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHistorically, poitin is distilled in a small pot still and made from a malted barley base. Variations in the mash bill range from\u00a0crabapples to wheat, sugar and beets. When introduced to Ireland in the 16th century, potatoes were used as well.\r\n\r\n\u201cPoitin may have disappeared from the mainstream, but was kept alive by a small group of artisans that plied their trade in the shadows.\u201d \u2013John Ralph, CEO, Intrepid Spirits\r\n\r\nThe finished product varied due to many factors, like the region and the distiller, so no two recipes were alike. Much skill and effort was needed to produce it, as malting, milling, fermentation and distillation was done essentially by hand. When the Irish emigrated, they brought this art form with them.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cPoitin in \u2018Gaelic\u2019 means \u2018little pot\u2019 and was the first form of a new make whiskey that we know of,\u201d says Stephan Teeling of Teeling Distillery in Dublin.\u00a0\u201cUntil it was outlawed, nearly 100% of poitin would have been made from barley. But once it was outlawed, people used potatoes and sugar beet as a cheaper substitute.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cFarmers all around the world always found a way to make alcohol from excess cereals, and in Ireland this was the birth of Poitin,\u201d Teeling continues. \u201cAs emigrant Irish families moved to all four corners of the globe, they brought this distilling tradition with them\u2014hence why Kentucky and Jarnac have deep Irish roots at the basis of the Bourbon and Cognac industry.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn modern times, the people of Ireland started to embrace poitin\u2019s illicit past and sought to remove what had become viewed as an unlawful ban. In 1987, regulations were loosened a bit, and a few companies were allowed to sell poitin for export only. It wasn\u2019t until 1997 that the ban was lifted.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cThe ban was removed through intense lobbying of some forward-thinking individuals and some powerful conglomerates that wanted to revive the category,\u201d says \u00d3 Griallais. \u201cThe owner of Bunratty Potcheen should be credited with a lot of that hard work. Diageo was also involved in pushing for legalization to launch a brand called Hackler, which was later discontinued.\u201d\r\n\r\nThough the ban has been lifted, it\u2019s taken\u00a0another 20 years for distilleries to truly embrace this forgotten spirit. Modern consumers, curious to taste something so intertwined in Irish history, have fueled a resurgence. Premium craft poitins like Mad March Hare, Teeling's Spirit of Dublin, B\u00e1n Poitin, Glendalough and Micil seek to dispel the stigmas associated with lower-quality homemade poitin.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSteps have also been taken to preserve the spirit\u2019s\u00a0heritage. In 2008, poitin received Geographical Indication (GI) status by the European Union, which requires that the spirit be produced on the island. Later, in 2015, the Irish government defined production methods and created regulations to weed out inauthentic bottlings.\r\n\r\nThough hidden in obscurity for centuries, poitin is a wholly Irish spirit with a story that needs to be told. Now that it\u2019s finally stepped out of the shadows, the world is ready to listen.