Originally from Co. Westmeath, Casserly is a liquor importer and founder of 1661 Poitín Irish Spirit. She recently relocated to Orlando, Florida.
When and why did you move to the U.S?

“I came to the U.S. on a student visa while in college in 2000 and had a brilliant summer. I fell in love with San Francisco and America. Once I finished my degree at the National University of Ireland, Galway, I moved back to the States around 2002 and have lived here for the last 10 years.”

Tell us about your product, 1661 Poitín.

“I have always been very interested in Irish culture and heritage; my degree from university is in Irish archaeology. Traditional poitín making is particularly interesting to me because it is a distillation (pun intended!) of many aspects of Irish culture. It is a testament to the craftiness and ingenuity of Irish culture in the face of adversity and is only produced in Ireland.

“Because it was made legal less than 20 years ago it is relatively unknown outside of Ireland. My aim with 1661 is to highlight traditional Irish culture by exposing it to new markets where this niche product will thrive.

“I decided to develop my own brand of poitín, working with traditional poitín makers and a small distillery in Ireland. There are many variations of poitín and the one I have chosen is extremely smooth and has a great taste. It can be drunk neat or is a great substitute for both whiskey and vodka in mixed drinks.”

Where did the name come from?

“The name 1661 is derived from the fact that, in that year, the British Crown, which ruled Ireland at that time, placed an outright ban on all poitín production because they were unable to collect taxes on the product. This ban lasted for over 300 years. Finally in 1997 the Irish government lifted the ban and poitín has been legal since then.  

“The name 1661 symbolizes the historic significance of poitín, and it is a symbol of Irish pride and independence.”
Did you find it difficult to get backing for your project?

“I chose to launch my business idea on a very popular website here in the US called Kickstarter, which is a new way to source funding for small business ventures. It uses the Internet to prove that a good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide.

“Kickstarter is powered by a unique “all-or-nothing” funding method where projects must reach their funding goal or no money changes hands. It’s a great way to start and support small businesses. I was very lucky and thankful to reach my target within my timeframe of a month. People were incredibly supportive of the idea and it showed me that my business idea was very viable.”

When can we expect to see the first batch?

“I am currently establishing contracts with potential distributors throughout the U.S. and, very shortly, I will begin the process of getting it over here. It is a very exciting time. This project is a huge undertaking, but I have truly relished every minute of it.

“I can’t put an exact timeframe on its arrival, but I hope to have it in stores in the next year. I update my Facebook and Twitter pages regularly informing people on my progress.”

Ashlee Casserly