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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Problem with Power's Gold Label Irish Whiskey


John Power & Sons and I
I've viewed Power's Gold Label through a pair of particularly rose-tinted spectacles for thirteen years.  Built into Power's are a lot of sentimental connections and sense memories as it has always reminded me of an intense part of my life and a number of lovely experiences surrounding that time.  Three and a half years ago (my god has it been that long?), I posted a review of the version of Power's I knew best.  It is the whisk(e)y I've purchased the most often in this life.

But as of mid-2013, the Gold Label I knew was no longer.  A new Gold Label with a new label, bottle shape, and higher ABV replaced it.  Usually irked by new versions of good things, I actually found myself looking forward to this change.  Then I saw its new price.  The alcohol content went up 3.2 points -- from 40% to 43.2% -- which is an increase of 8%.  The price (in California) had jumped from $17.99 to $29.99, an increase of 67%.

The fall of Power's
That was enough of a hike to make even me, one of this whiskey's champions, take pause.  I didn't buy it for almost two years.  I didn't see any reason why I should pay $30 for my $18 whiskey.  Meanwhile on the business side, the $18 whisk(e)y market and the $30 whisk(e)y market are two different things, and I wasn't confident of the wisdom of Pernod's decision to move Power's to another market.  Nor did I see or hear any PR push to inspire people to pay 67% more for it nor to get the new demographic to buy it at all.  And it appears as if the market has spoken...

Volume sales dropped 5% in 2013 when the new version was introduced mid-year in the US.  Though that doesn't seem like much, consider that the other six leading Irish whiskey brands increased their volume sales 18% that year.  Then in 2014, the first full year this new edition was on the shelves, the volume sales of Power's dropped another 30%.  Adding it all up, since this new Power's was released the brand's volume sales have sunk 33% in the US, while the other six leading Irish whiskey brands' volume sales have risen by 28%.  That's probably not good.

I assume that Pernod Ricard was attempting to ride the coattails of the legitimate Irish whisky boom (volume sales up nearly 50% in 2014 compared to 2011), by releasing what they thought was a premium blend, something that was a step up from Jameson's.  Quality-wise, Power's has always been better than Jameson's, perhaps due to its focus on pot still whiskey versus Jameson's focus on grain whiskey.  In the end, it's the dollars that matter to Pernod, of course.  And though I don't have the official $ numbers, if I use winesearcher's average prices (rather than my anecdotal ones) with the Impact Databank table for 2012 through 2014, the value drop is 13%.  Yes, the price increase padded the blow, but didn't stop it.  Meanwhile, the rest of the brands have ascended.

But does it taste good?
So......about that whole quality thing.  How about a review?  It was one of my Summer Whiskies and all that.


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Powers
Current Owner: Pernod-Ricard
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Age: likely minimum 3 years
Bottle code: L42861517313:18
Alcohol by Volume: 43.2%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

The color is the same well-engineered bright gold of its predecessor.  The nose begins with orange blossoms, vanilla bean, and paint.  Then honeydew, cantaloupe, and pears.  Aerosol can propellant and brown sugar.  The palate is loaded with milk caramels.  Then creamsicles and toffee pudding.  Flan.  More caramel than vanilla.  A small cracked pepper note here and there.  Despite all of those dessert notes, it's not as sweet as the Elmer T. Lee I reviewed yesterday.  Salted caramel gelato on the finish.  Vanilla pudding up front and a tart citrus note in the back.  A spicy tingle and a good length.

The good news.  It's still Power's!  They didn't ruin it.  Those were my first thoughts upon my first sip of my first glass from this bottle.  While the nose can be a bit rough at times (as it used to be), the palate is very good (as it used to be).  I think there may be a little more fruit in the nose and the finish might be a little longer than before.

The bad news.  It's still Power's.  It doesn't deliver anything new, despite the extra ABV points and the lack of chillfiltration, despite the new design, despite the much higher price.  And to be honest, that was disappointing.  (Yes, I would have been more disappointed if they'd turned out a completely different lesser product, burying the old Power's forever.)  And while I usually try to savor a whiskey for what it is despite the price, I think the disappointment snuck in and tainted my enjoyment of Power's a little bit.  I started wondering if I was smelling the chemical notes stronger in this version.  Were the caramel notes beginning to overwhelm the rest of the package?  Or have I changed as a whiskey fan over the past two years?

Ultimately, this remains the best non-ultra-premium blend coming from Midleton and probably the best non-ultra-premium Irish whiskey blend overall (though I haven't tried any of Teeling's new things).  So, yes, it probably should be more expensive than Jameson, Paddy's, Bushmills White, 2 Gingers, and Tullamore Dew.  And yes, it's much tastier neat than any bottom (and many middle) shelf Scotch blends.  The thing is though, at $18 Power's was an incredible deal, a bottle I'd always have on hand.  At $30, it's just one of many options.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $27-$36 for the new label, the old one can sometimes be found at its old price
Rating - 84

2 comments:

  1. That's a very interesting market analysis, Michael! It looks like when Nick Morgan will make you a job offer, it will not be for an ambassadorship in Knockandostan, but rather as North America Chief Whisky Strategist.

    So it does seem like Powers lost market by increasing the price and being shifted to a different tier. But given that Powers & Jameson are owned by the same company, what if it was a deliberate move, so that it doesn't compete with Jameson but rather is pitched as a step up from it, the Mortlach of Irish blends, the Beck's to Jameson's Budweiser? If so, they can afford the loss, in the context of the rocket growth for Jameson and for their portfolio as a whole. Incidentally, this would explain the singular increase to 43% abv - Power's: for the connoisseurs for whom 40% Jameson is undignified pisswater.

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    Replies
    1. You make a good point. Paddy, Power's, and Jameson's have always sat at the same pricing tier. Meanwhile Midleton has set up a solid pricing tier for their single pot stills over the past three years.

      But here's the thing, Power's was never cannibalizing Jameson's sales. Jameson sells millions of cases annually, while Power sells in the (now low) tens of thousands. Jameson's sales are so massive that no one will really know if they picked up the folks who stopped buying Power's. If Power's sales continue to sink in 2015, then perhaps they might consider the possibility that the "connoisseurs" are going for scotch and bourbon at the $30 price tier instead.

      Also, yes, I would love to work at Diageo. They'd be foolish not to hire their biggest fan.

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