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1512 Spirits: Signature Poitín

Heritage Irish potato spirit from a one-man distillery

by James Thorne in Food + Drink on 14 May 2012

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Resurrecting a rare Irish spirit in the Bay Area is no easy feat, and distiller Salvatore Cimino isn't the most likely candidate either. The third-generation distiller is of Sicilian descent, and decided to try creating the potato-based "poitín" (pot-cheen) at the behest of a friend who presented him with a heritage recipe. Having experienced some success with a duo of Prohibition-era rye whiskeys, Cimino created "Signature Poitín" as part of his one-man distilling operation 1512 Spirits. His methods bring a new meaning to the phrase "hand-crafted", overseeing the entire process in a 700-square-foot space.

A barber by day, Cimino named the distillery 1512 after his shop, working on his spirits during off-hours. Using 95% potatoes, Cimino begins by juicing the spuds and cooking the liquid over a direct flame. He then adds hand-milled barley and cooks his mash, leaving it to ferment for three or four days. The mixture is separated by hand and double-distilled before it is proofed at 104. The process recalls the heritage of Irish farmers who would make this spirit with local materials and resources. While the Signature Poitín is high effort and low yield, Cimino is sticking to his artisanal guns.

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Poitín—Irish Gaelic for "small pot"—isn't a delicate spirit. The flavor is robust, heavy on potato with floral notes thrown in between. While some will find it too raw and one-dimensional, others will appreciate the honesty of flavor that comes through, which is similar to that of a single-varietal vodka. Fans of the poitín enjoy it in a hot toddy, warm it up to expose the floral flavors or drink it neat alongside oysters. The drink is a true eau de vie—more likely to wake you up after a meal than tuck you in for bed.

The next release from 1512 Spirits will feature a rare wheat whiskey, which has been aged in ex-rye barrels. With batches that are limited to around 85 bottles, the level of craft goes well beyond single-barrel whiskeys. 1512 Spirits' Signature Poitín can be found at select retailers and online through Cask Spirits.

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