Select Page

Irish Poitín

Poitín [POT-cheen: Irish for “little pot”]
The most ancient of distilled spirits—and the most exciting
new cocktail hooch around.

History Reborn

The Smuggling Nun Story

Smuggling Nun founder Maura Clare first read about poitín as a teenager. At the time her cousin, a Franciscan nun from County Clare, happened to be planning a trip back to the homeland. When Sister Mary offered to bring back a souveneir. Maura mentioned her curiosity about Ireland’s ancient distilled spirit. Sister Mary hunted down some poitín and smuggled it back to the U.S. in a holy water bottle.

Years later, when Maura began the pursuit of poitín making in earnest, a friend of a friend made a quiet introduction to a retired bootlegger-farmer in the Glens of Antrim, whose poitín recipe originated with the famous Michael McIlhatton.

Over the next seven years, Maura worked to perfect the McIlhatton process to capture the distinctive, fresh flavor of Ireland’s best poitín. Smuggling Nun’s County Down distillery went through an extensive process to procure the finest ingredients and scale up the formula for production. 

The SmugNun consistently, dramatically ranks above and beyond other brands in blind taste tests.


Uisce Beatha

The Water of life

Irish monks and nuns invented poitín sometime in the sixth century, after learning to distill perfume on the Continent. Over the next thousand years, the Irish and Scots learned to age poitín into whiskey, also known as “uisce beatha”—the water of life.

In 1661, it became illegal to produce poitín, giving birth to the world’s first moonshine. It remained a clandestine art and enjoyment for over four centuries—until the Irish legalized it on May 7, 1997.  

Poitín was usually made from malted barley, with other grains and fruit sometimes added to the mash. In the early 20th Century, sugar beet became readily available, and enterprising bootleggers such as the famed Michael McIlhatton developed winning combinations of fine Irish malted barley, beet sugar, molasses, fresh yeast and clear Irish spring water.

To this day, unlicensed poitín may be found hidden on the top shelf of the pantry in Irish homes, kept on hand for special celebrations. At 90 proof, SmugNun is authentically strong but also exceptionally smooth and flavorful, making it a standout in cocktails.


11 + 9 =