Poitin patrol

Poitin patrol

Michael Jackson joins the poitin patrol, in prepartation for St Patrick's Day on Friday 17 March.
There is a perfectly legal Irish whiskey called Paddy, and that is what the label before me announced. However, the contents of the bottle were the colour of water, smelled slightly of silage, and had a suspiciously hot finish. "This is a good one. You could drink this all
night and have no hangover in the morning," my host pronounced. The gospel according to Jackson is that all alcoholic beverages contain a hangover if you drink enough of them, but the good host was not to be deterred. He pulled another bottle from his desk drawer. "This one is better with a dash of Seven-Up," he suggested, with the air of a sommelier proposing that I let my first-growth claret breathe a little.I was beginning to worry. "Didn't you say there was a minimum fine for handling this stuff?" He adopted his sommelier gravitas again. "To be sure, it's £1,000," he said, using the British currency for my benefit, "but usually they fine you less than a hundred". If the thousand was a minimum, how could it be reduced tenfold? "Oh, you know judges – they are a law unto themselves."I was not entirely sure that the joke was intentional. My host was the senior officer, the sergeant, in a two-man police station, in what otherwise looked like a private house, in a village in Ireland. We were conducting our poitin-tasting in his office. "The man who made this poitin – how much was he fined?" I asked. "Nothing. He gave it to me as a Christmas present." The Sarge dismissed any thought that such a gift might constitute a bribe. Poitin, he indicated, was not automatically a cause for prosecution.So in what circumstances was the decision made to pursue a case? "Some fellers become martyrs to it. One started going around in the nude after he had too much. His wife complained, so we had to prosecute him. One gave poitin to children – and it was good
stuff. Some fellers get so bad that they can't work."The Sarge observed that most illegal distillers were philosophical when they were prosecuted. Then to help me better understand, he took me to see a distiller. We drove to a nearby farm, where the preferred packaging was a former Teacher's bottle and the product was more estery. The farmer denied having made this fine vintage, saying that he had bought it. I asked where. "In the village market," he replied. "What if the police come?" I queried. He looked at me as though I were thick. "They sell it when the police aren't going to come."The problem with buying at the market was that, while you could have a taste, the sample might be a better batch than the stuff in the bottle you took home. One man, a teetotaller, was sold 12 bottles that actually contained water. "He couldn't take them back and complain,” chuckled the farmer. “Poitin is illegal, you know." “Why,” I asked, “would a teetotaller try to buy poitin?” "For friends, as Christmas presents." The farmer clearly felt this customer was a little naive. After a moment's thought, he explained, "Yer man's a Protestant." And, after a further few seconds head-scratching, "Are you a Proddy yourself...?"For a man who had apparently never made any poitin, the farmer spoke with great knowledge about the necessary proportions of barley, malt, sugar and yeast required to make a given quantity, the importance of double distillation, and the need for a good worm (cooling coil), fashioned by being wrapped round a tree. Where could the ingredients be found? "In the village shop,” he said. "But there was a bit of problem when the bishop here said it was a sin to make or drink poitin." Had this harmed business? "No, but it put a strain on the parish priest. So many people were going to confession he couldn't cope."
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