The name "poteen" is the anglicisation of the Irish word poitín, which means "small pot" - the word is pronounced (roughly) pu-CHEEN in both languages. As this fearsome concoction is illegal, its quality and indeed composition varies depending on the maker. In general, it is a clear liquid distilled from potatoes, with a mind-bendlingly high alcohol content. Ingestion of this liquid is generally left to the more masochistic of drinkers, but many swear by its efficacy as a rub to relieve muscle pain.

In recent times, a number of drinks have come on the market describing themselves as poitín, including Hackler's Irish Poteen. These drinks in general bear only a passing resemblence to the hooch which has been brewed in illegal stills for hundreds of years, the most salient difference being that they are drinkable by humans under certain special circumstances.