Moonshine and Poitín are two beverages not typically associated with refreshing, home-infused cocktails. Until now.
Bootleggers has quickly become renowned as one of Belfast’s most dynamic, edgy bars thanks to its nod to the prohibition era with an ingenuous menu of drink concoctions passionately developed by skilled barman Max McPherson.
Having been ardent fans of Bootleggers cocktails for a long time now, we were pretty impressed to discover we’ve been sipping away on Moonshine based drinks the whole time.
We met up with Max himself, for the ultimate guide to the extensive Bootleggers drinks menu for anyone who’s never (knowingly) sampled these fine beverages!
“The idea behind the menu comes from the Prohibition era. Whereas a lot of bars nowadays go along with the idea of the secretive aspect of the Prohibition, we went with the ‘Bootleggers’ style,” Max explained.
“So instead of secret doors and bells we’ve gone down the line of ‘Bootleggers’ who were the runners of Moonshine. The term comes from the guys that used to come into the bar and hide the Moonshine in their riding boots!”
Experienced barman Max, who has worked in bars throughout London, quickly identified a unique selling point for the popular city centre bar:
“We saw a hole in the market! I’ve personally never come across any specialised Moonshine bars in London nevermind the rest of the UK, so we thought it would be an interesting area for us to concentrate on.
“There’s also been a big rise in ‘Bootlegging’ style drinks. The first record of Poitín is from the 6th century but it was illegal in Ireland for 300 years and only legalised in 1997!
“We believe Poitín is something to be proud of, it’s Ireland’s spirit and one of the first ever spirits to be distilled in the world by Irish monks in the fourteenth century.”
Poitín Vs Moonshine
Essentially the difference between Poitin and Moonshine is their native grain. Moonshine is a corn based spirit. Whilst Poitin generally speaking is a malted barley and potato based spirit. Moonshine is essentially bourbon:
“Our Moonshine is only aged for 30 days whilst bourbon has to go through an ageing process where it sits in charred barrels for a minimum of two years. Poitin is taken straight out of the still to create a naked, still whiskey.
“We import Georgia Moonshine – we go through about 20 jars a week or more of our own infusions! It’s a corn based whiskey, which is one of the best things to mix with because it has got that clean flavour so you can dehydrate fruits and herbs and infuse them with it. Some take two days, some take two weeks, some take two months. We’ve got about 20 home infusions now!”
Indeed, you may be a huge Moonshine fan and not even know it – as Bootleggers cocktails are all home infusions!
The diverse drinks menu also has a section called Moonshine & Mixers, offering something that little bit different – yet arguably even more delicious – to your regular Gin & Tonic. (We particularly recommend the Raspberry infused Moonshine with Rhubarb bitters and Tonic…)
“There’s been a big change with the craft cocktail scene exploding in Belfast this last five years. There’s huge interest in it so it’s the right time! People have a huge interest in it and our menu is becoming more and more well known.”
The Poitín Renaissance
Whilst you may be forgiven for associating Poitín with certain connotations (it’s safe to say everyone has their own story about Poitín), it is definitely beginning to celebrate something of a renaissance. This is something Max is definitely noticing:
“Poitín is starting to shed its reputation! Everyone has that infamous first interaction with it, where their friend of a friend gets it for them and it’s blown their head off! And it’s the same with Moonshine. But they’ve actually got a good character to them now and they’re being taken more seriously.
“A lot of the Poitín and Moonshines we use would be the same proof as Gin, between 40-46% so they’re approachable. Then obviously we’ve got a few that would blow your head off at 60 – 62%!
“But they’re designed to be sipped at, along with your infusions which we mix together. We’re getting away from the shot mentality, and like to mix it with our different home-infused flavours.
“We’ve got six different Poitíns. Generally Poitín is made with Barley, Sugar Beet and Potatoes – that’s your standard Poitín. Poitin is a versatile spirit we use in our cocktails because it’s got that grainy, grassy, heathery smell & taste to it so it goes well in that. We’re increasing our Poitín and Moonshine menu all the time.
“France has got their Cognac; we’ve got Poitín. And I think we’re just trying to change people’s perception of it a little bit – because you can sip it! That’s what’s behind the whole infusion idea – because you have the taste of the spirit but through the infusion of fresh ingredients as well.
“One of them was inspired by my first interaction with Poitín! I was 18 and my stepdad got some in a plastic milk carton! It was infused with brandy balls and you get that aroma of the alcohol but also that cinnamon star anise flavour. So we’ve got our home infused one in-house which sells really well.”
The Big Sellers
“The mixers are a big seller, so if someone comes in and asks for one of our infusions we give them a choice. One of our best sellers would be our Apple Moonshine which we would recommend with the Sicillian Lemonade and Elderflower which is a big seller.
“Generally most of our sales of our Moonshine and Poitin would be through our cocktails, so every cocktail we have we use an infusion!”
Bootleggers cocktails range from £6.50 – £9, and feature various forms of different flavours of Moonshine, from home-infused Raspberry; Apricot; Coconut; Fig; Pear, Honeycomb – and even bacon!
Alternatively, you can opt for the equally powerful Moonshine & Mixer Menu; which allows you to sip, shoot or mix! Check out Bootleggers on Facebook to stay up to date with offers and all the latest beverages!