Discovering Unique Spirits With Seth Allen of NYC’s The Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocer

Unique spirits are popping up in bars across the country. This is an exciting development for patrons to try new and interesting spirits now available, as well as corresponding cocktails. I had an opportunity to interview the amazing and super talented Seth Allen about the Irish spirit Poitín. Poitín is an Irish distilled spirit in a small pot still, and offers a unique taste that resembles a mix between sake and whiskey.  

Meet Seth Allen of the The Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocer

Foodable: Tell me a little about yourself.

Seth Allen: I grew up on a small farm in NW Connecticut. We couldn’t see our neighbors and it was a fifteen-minute drive to the grocery store. It was a beautiful place where I grew up snowboarding, mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. My mom was into health food that was simple and nutritious, not always that exciting. In my late teens, I got to travel and I was introduced to a world of flavors and dishes that I had never dreamt of. I lived in Marseille, France for half a year before moving to NYC. The farmers markets in Southern France blew my mind. Best and freshest food ever. When I moved to New York City, the farmers markets bringing fresh food to this mega city inspired me. Everywhere you look people are creating new drinks and dishes, reinventing old ones and everywhere is greatness. I still get to the mountains sometimes to snowboard and kayak, but mostly I just bike around this city on my single speed and have little wish to go anywhere else.  It’s all right here.

Foodable: Where do you draw inspiration from when creating a cocktail?

SA: I like natural ingredients. I like looking at the history of the spirit that I am using and trying to tie in classic ingredients and taste profiles from the area that the spirit comes from. I also love trying new spirits or reinvented spirits, which is great with all the new craft distilleries that are thriving right now.   

Foodable: Do you have a favorite spirit to work with? 

SA: Lately Poitín has been something new and exiting to work with. Especially the Poitín line up from Glendalough.

Foodable: Tell me a little bit about the flavor profile of Poitín.

SA: Poitín is an Irish spirit that traditionally can be distilled from many different things. The different distillations will give different flavor profiles. Poitín can be categorized as somewhere between vodka and whiskey, ultimately it is Poitín. Translated in Gaelic as “the water of life.” All Poitín tend to be fresh and bright. They have little to no color due to little or no aging. Traditionally, they are high in alcohol but newer brands releasing Poitín to the market are around the standard 40% alc/Vol. Poitín is often called Irish moonshine. It has cultural and culinary history dating back hundreds of years. It was made illegal in 1661 by King Charles and, until the late 1990s, remained illegal. Much like moonshine in America, it has a mythos of rebellion and dissidence.  

  Glendalough Distillery   Poitín  | Credit: Glendalough Distillery

Glendalough Distillery Poitín  | Credit: Glendalough Distillery

One of the Poitín by the Glendalough distillery is 40% alc./Vol and gets it flavors from the malted barley and sugar beats that it is distilled from and the virgin Irish Oak that it is briefly aged in. Smooth and complex to taste it is one of the fuller flavored Poitín due to its short aging in Virgin Oak. There are hints of black cracked pepper, some dried fruits and touches of vanilla and toasty oak. Glendalough also has a higher strength Poitín that they call Mountain Strength. At 60% alc/Vol. it has a more viscous mouth feel with hints of apricot, and spicier fuller finish than the lesser strength Poitín. The team at Glendalough also makes a Poitín that is aged for a short time in Sherry Casks at 40% alc/Vol giving hints of raisins and honey in the finish.  

The Teeling distillery makes a Poitín that is a blend of 80% triple-distilled corn spirit and 20% double-distilled malt. It is bottled at 61.5% alc/Vol. It tastes of dried orange peel, barley wine, marzipan and sugared citrus peel. It has a creamy spicy finish. The higher alcohol levels give it some extra heat that can benefit a well-balanced cocktail.  

Knockeen Hills uses whey to distill their Poitín. Its 60% 'Farmer’s Strength’ release is triple distilled. It tastes of warm citrus, peppermint and malt with a dry finish.

1512 Spirits Signature Poitín is distilled in America from 95% potato and 5% barley.  

Foodable: What cocktails are you making with Poitín?

SA: A clean refreshing Poitín Cucumber Spritz, an herbal Poitín and Yellow Chartreuse with a dash of Maldon Salt and a frothy Poitín egg white and amaretto flip.  

Foodable: Where did the inspiration come from to create a Poitín cocktail? 

SA: Poitín is such a fresh, bright spirit that I like to keep the ingredients light and fresh as well. This means nothing too syrupy or processed. I definitely let the season inspire my ingredients.  

Have you had a unique spirit at your local bar?