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Taste Test: Tara Distillery’s The Exile Australian Poitín

Taking inspiration from their heritage and history of the Emerald Isle, Tara Distillery’s Irish style new make whiskey called Poitín runs our gauntlet Taste Test to see just what’s going on with Ireland’s forbidden spirit.

About Tara Distillery

Hailing from the beautiful coastline of the Shoalhaven in New South Wales, Tara Distillery has reignited the embers of a history that once burned brightly in this part of Australia.

Back in the mid-late 1800s, the Shoalhaven had a reputation for high-quality, albeit illegal, whisky. And some 140 years later, Tara is showing that the region still has what it takes to make superb spirit.

However, although this is an Aussie craft distillery through and through, owner-distiller Alarna Doherty has made sure there are plenty of nods to Ireland, not least in the distillery name.

Tara refers to the Irish Kingship of Tara—the highest title in the land over 2000 years ago. And the distillery’s copper pot still is called Gráinne, named after an Irish goddess but also the daughter of one of the high kings of Ireland in the 3rd Century.

To all intents and purposes, this is a distillery with dual nationality.

About the Bottle

Poitín—pronounced /pot-cheen/ is essentially new make whisky. New make comes by many names: moonshine, white dog, hooch, vit hund, depending on where it's made.

But poitín is quintessentially Irish, even though it was illegal there until 1997—and still is in Northern Ireland. Perhaps this illicitness fits well in the Shoalhaven, where bootleg distilling was such a big part of the region back in the day.

It certainly fits with Tara’s name for their Australian poitín: The Exile.

Grain and Process

Traditionally, poitín was made from the same grains you’d use for whisky, but due to costs—especially when it became illegal in 1661—distillers started using anything they could ferment into a beer then distill, often things like corn or potatoes.

Tara uses local oats and barley from NSW for their poitín, which creates more texture and flavour. This is a different grain bill to the Irish style whiskey they also make.

Following Irish whiskey tradition, Tara triple distills its whiskey and poitín, which removes a lot more impurities than Scottish whisky for example, which is usually only double distilled. The result is a smoother, mellower easier-drinking spirit.

Tasting Notes

This clear, bright-eyed youngster shines from its bottle, all keen and eager.

Firm whiskey notes on the nose with a musty oatiness that leads to a sweet finish. In spite of its high ABV (50%), there’s no burn in the nostrils even when you get close to this spirit.

To taste, you find sweet bready oats on the first sip, that lead to flavours of a spiced apple and cherry pie, complete with its pastry base, and a long enjoyable finish.

But most of all you’re struck by how smooth and silky the texture of this spirit is.

Serving Suggestions

Tara Distillery’s The Exile is so smooth. Indeed, it’s been made to drink neat or on the rocks or with a drop of water to open flavours up, though you can also use it in cocktails.

New make, including poitín, is often seen as the purest form of the distiller’s skills and a rare insight into the distillery.

There’s no ageing or oak for them to hide behind, flavours haven’t been concentrated by the evaporation or ‘angels’ share’, it’s just pure whisky off the still, blended with enough water to bring the spirit down to the correct ABV.

That said, new make isn’t as easily appreciated as aged whisky and is often only ‘an industry thing’ which is a great shame.

There are a number of cocktails that work so well with new make—especially when you’re looking for a bolder flavour than what you’d get from other white spirits like gin or vodka. It also works as a replacement for white rum.

Our favourites for new make are a bloody Mary, swapping out the vodka, a mojito with new make instead of rum or even a new-make boulevardier.

I’m also looking forward to trying The Exile in a caffe corretto—an espresso served with a shot of spirit.


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