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1661 Cocktail Bar   Tucked into a little corner just off Capel Street in the up-and-coming part of North Dublin you’ll find Bar 1661. The bar itself is warm and dark, that kind of warm darkness that only cold Irish nights bring out. There’s no TV, no blasting music, this is speakeasy at its best. Opened on Good Friday, 19th April 2019, Bar 1661 have already gained a great reputation for something different, backed up with their fantastic and innovative cocktails. At the Craft Cocktail Awards 2019 they picked up five awards, including the much-coveted Best Overall Cocktail Bar. The man with the vision and founder Dave Mulligan, a Dublin native, sat down with us to talk cocktails, whiskey and his love of poitín. IWM: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the business? DAVE: I’ve always been in the bar and restaurants, service industry, entertainment and hospitality environment. When I started off, I was massively into wi e as I was working with food until the age of about twenty-two. Then I got into bars my attention shifted to spirits which at that time in Ireland were not that trendy at all. But then with spirits comes cocktail culture. I moved to the United Kingdom in 2011 and it was there that my attention was drawn to poitín as I was really into cocktails. I opened Shebeen on St. Patricks Day, 2012 in Kentish Town, London. We were on a short term lease, for three years, so we knew it wouldn’t last. It was originally opened as an Irish whiskey and classic cocktail bar in the speakeasy-style. The idea to change from an Irish whiskey to a poitín bar came very quickly because I was in Ireland a week later drinking poitín with my Dad and hearing all the old stories I thought about how nobody is doing anything with our national spirit. We relaunched as a poitín bar and that became our unique selling point. About the same time, I started fishing cos I couldn’t get any support from any brands, so I looked into bringing out our own poitín and initially, we worked with West Cork Distillery and brought out Bán Poitín. We then met Jarlath Watson from Echlinville Distillery and struck it off with him and then met owner Shane Braniff who agreed to work with us, and they have produced Bán Poitín for us since. We use malted barley, potato and beet molasses. Bán is my interpretation of poitín, I didn’t want to pretend it was a historic recipe and wanted to create something with a modern twist influenced by my cocktail background. There will be other expressions coming out including a peat cask expression and a pot still version. Bán will never make whiskey. It will be a blend of grains from a single estate.     - "We use malted barley, potato and beet molasses." -     IWM: Has the success of Bán Poitín enabled you to do what you like to do? DAVE: I love making and selling poitín and bringing it to a global stage. I have no delusions that it’s going to be the next whiskey. The thing with poitín being a native Irish spirit is the drink, it needs a vehicle to make it more accessible. Other spirits have that. Pisco has pisco sour, tequila has the margarita, gin the martini, and rum the mojito. That’s why they are in cocktail bars all over the world. The Belfast cocktail Is the one that we created and are pushing as that drink for poitín. What I would say to any whiskey drinker that turns their nose up at poitín is it is for the most part whiskey before it hits the barrel. There are twenty-five legal poitín here and we want to change your perception of what you think that spirit is. Poitín was our national drink and it should be something we are proud of.   IWM: How did Bar 1661 come about? DAVE: Bar 1661 was initially a popup bar in 2017 when we had it running in Berlin club. The numbers were great. We created more press in six weeks as a bar than I had created in six years as a brand. Suddenly alarm bars rang. Dublin needed a poitín bar. I teamed up with John Ralph and a few other private investors. The popup was purely a poitín bar whereas this is a cocktail bar that specialises in poitín. We wanted to broaden the offering, we have pints we have a full back bar and we have one of the best bars in Ireland. We’re not trying to have the most Irish whiskeys; we are just trying to have a very good eclectic collection. SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) were looking for a partner bar in Ireland and so the only scotch we have is from them. We opened on Good Friday, April 19th, 2019 and our birthday will always be Good Friday. We have been going from strength to strength. Where we are people have to seek us out. If we were in the city centre, we’d be selling mostly pints and gin and tonics which isn’t what we are about. IWM: Tell us about the team you have? DAVE: We have an exceptional team. Luke O’Mara who came from the Liquor rooms, Ivana Maresic from multiple Dublin sites, Alan McGillivray who has worked in The Dead Rabbit and Gillian Boyle from Ukiyo Bar. We all get on. We have the same goal and interests. Winning the Best Bar Team at the Cocktail Bar Awards was a great accolade for the team. Ireland is not mature in a cocktail market. The vast majority of cocktail bars are under a corporate umbrella and so they have to use particular brands. The bartender has their creativity stifled. We need more independent bars.   IWM: What is it that poitín brings to cocktails that are different from whiskey? DAVE: It’s a completely different spirit. The big mistake people make is they try to use poitín as they would in whiskey cocktails. Poitín doesn’t work like a brown spirit. It’s white spirit so you got to think things like tequila, like mescal, rum, grappa. That’s how it behaves.   IWM: How did the Belfast Coffee cocktail come about? DAVE: That was a long time in the making. We were looking for a signature serve with poitín. Myself and Lucas were doing some work for a coffee chain called Black Sheep. They were putting liquor licenses into the store and they wanted to do some cocktails with their cold brew so they asked could we do a poitín one with cold brew. It was just one of the eureka moments how simple can we make this. We took the bottle of cold brew out of the fridge and let’s just pretend we were making an Irish coffee and we just used white spirit instead of dark and poured the cold brew straight into the glass. It’s essentially an Irish coffee swapping the whiskey for poitín and the hot coffee for cold brew.   IWM: Philosophy in terms of ingredients for your cocktails? DAVE: The cocktail menu consists of sixteen cocktails of which eight are poitín based and the remainder are non-poitín based such as gin, vodka, whiskey and others. Irish has to be the base. We always look for a second ingredient that is a foraged Irish ingredient. If there is anywhere that we can use an Irish ingredient instead of an import, we do that. We do use fruit and vegetables from around the world but it’s amazing to have two square blocks of fruit markets around here so we can just drop over and select what we want. We have a herb specialist, a juicing specialist, African and Asian specialists, bitters from Off the Cuff bitters, all just around the corner. We still buy the majority of our spirits from Celtic Whiskey Shop and L Mulligans not because they are the cheapest but because we respect their business model and want to support them.   IWM: What do you make of the whiskey scene as it is in Ireland? DAVE: I love Irish whiskey, I adore it. I love so many people that work in the industry. There has been a lot of hype of an industry around the growth of Jameson. We are in dangerous territory of ruining the whole thing up before we’ve even got going. There are too many people releasing other whiskeys with misleading stories for vastly inflated prices that they were sold at vastly inflated prices and when we have bottles of three-year-old whiskey coming out at crazy prices whiskey enthusiasts around the world are going to look at that and think these people are mental and I’m sticking with Scotch.   IWM: What’s your ambition than for 1661? DAVE: We want to be the trend leading bar in Ireland and continue what we’re doing. We have a hundred aspirations. We’ve got a drinks lab going in downstairs, we have a whiskey blending room going in. Hopefully, that will be done by the end of the summer. We are the flagship for Irish poitín, this is where we want to direct people to. Tourists seem to love us. We just want to keep our standards really high, keep improving and keep exploring what are the possibilities in poitín and how much we can do. The lab downstairs will help us do that. A lot of work goes into our cocktails and we’re looking at what else we can do here and transcend our building. We have great relationships with distilleries and if we find something that we want to scale up we have distilleries that are willing to work with us. We’re only getting started, I’ve been in poitín for eight years and I think there are another fifteen years before poitín gets to where it needs to go. Three 1661 Signature Cocktails   Belfast Coffee   WHAT YOU NEED 2oz Cold Brew Coffee 1oz Bán Poitín 0.5oz Demerara sugar METHOD Stir it down over ice and layer one finger of part whipped double cream. Grate nutmeg to garnish. Serve in a 6oz Irish Coffee Glass
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