POITÍN MAKER DAVE Mulligan says it’s easier to sell the once illicit drink to the Brits than it is to the Irish.
Mulligan, the Irishman who founded London-based Bán Poitín, says there are a lot of misconceptions about the spirit here. Bad experiences with the illegal version have scarred some drinkers.
“Irish people are terrified of it,” he tells Fora in a video interview. “The small percentage that have tried it, tried it when they were young.
“Some of the English have heard of it. They hear it’s illegal, they think it’s cool.”
Founded in 2015, Bán Poitín is pitching itself as a premium spirit and is stocked in exclusive venues like London’s five-star Connaught Hotel.
Mulligan says the drinks brand has found it easier to make its way into luxury hotels in the UK than onto the shelves of cocktail bars in Dublin.
“I can’t understand that,” he says. “I think there’s quite a slow pace to get behind Irish spirits. What I see here are the same whiskies in every bar, the same gins in every bar.”
To help change people’s perception of poitín – and to drum up a bit of interest in his own product – Mulligan has set up a pop-up bar in Dublin city centre.
Located in the belly of the relaunched Berlin café – on the laneway between George’s Street and Dublin Castle – the 1661 bar will serve a rotating menu of cocktails until the end of next month using eight different brands of poitín.
Explaining the name behind the pop-up, Mulligan says, “1661 is the year they banned poitín. That starts its illicit history.
“This bar is to celebrate the 20th anniversary of legalisation, which is why we wanted to do it by the end of the year,” he says.
As a bit of a practical joke, Bán Poitín strategically chose the opening and closing dates for the project to clash with two big drinks industry dates.
“We launched the day of the Irish Whiskey Awards (19 October) and we close the day of Whiskey Live Dublin on 25 November. They’re the two biggest dates in the Irish whiskey calendar,” Mulligan says.
“I just thought it would be a bit of fun to launch our poitín bar on their two biggest dates because historically, we didn’t always get along.”
When asked whether he expects the bar to turn a profit, Mulligan says he’ll be happy to break even – the main purpose behind the project is to drum up awareness of Bán.
“This is a big marketing campaign for me,” he says. “I’m a very small brand, I can’t just run around and get people to help me out and pay PRs and advertising companies to come up with campaigns … (A pop-up is) smart marketing for a small brand.”
To-date, Bán has been funded with an undisclosed sum of seed investment. Mulligan says he is looking to raise again to fuel the firm’s European expansion.
The ultimate goal is to bring the drinks brand to the US – but that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
“Poitín is not going to be an overnight success,” Mulligan says. “It’s a huge education piece, but when you’ve got 1,500 years of history and culture to back you up, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”