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Thursday, March 22, 2012

NOT Single Malt Report: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

The Personal Classics, Part 2:  Powers Irish Whiskey

Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Powers
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey
Current Owner: Pernod-Ricard
Age: likely minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

I took to Irish Whiskey first.  I originally drank Scotch blends because they were considerably better than cheap gin, rum, tequila, and vodka.  But I loved the Irish first.  So I always have a soft spot in my heart (probably quite literally) for lovelies like Powers.

It started during the Ireland/Scotland trip of 2002 that I spoke of yesterday.  Two-thirds of the excursion was in Ireland, most of which was in the Irish countryside.  That was before the massive financial boom doubled the prices of everything there.  The Euro was still young and only 96 cents!  So, though the pours were small, sometimes you could get a whiskey at the pub for under 3 dollars!  And I tried every one I spotted -- Jamesons, Tullamore Dew, Paddy's, Michael Collins -- each splendid in its own way.  But Powers was love at first sight.

Ireland is beautiful, even when it rains.  Even when it is near freezing and soaked with the smell of wet sheep.  I would walk through the rain, over fenced and non-fenced land all day.  At night I'd go to the pub and order a hot whiskey.  (Recipe here!)  Roving musicians would settle in with fiddles and flutes and drums and cigarettes and stout.  They'd play and play and play for hours.  Between the music and the whiskey and the Guinness and the people's faces, the universe would warm and embrace everyone at once.  Time itself would settle in for a drink, and we'd all be held in the sway of the evening miraculous.

One can't recreate it here in The States, but the memory fastens itself to the soul.  It's always there to access, to get lost in for a moment or two.

Did I mention that Powers also tastes good?  It has a high pot still element and a low grain whiskey level.  I can't prove that other than that's what my nose and tastebuds tell me.  And Powers likes to advertise its "Distinctive Pot Still Character".

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  A little Powers history:

James Power first started making whiskey on John's Lane in Dublin in 1791.  The company, later known as John Power & Sons, became so successful that they had to massively expand their distillery and add their own bottling plant (a first for an Irish distiller).  They used a gold label to distinguish it from the white-labelled independently-bottled versions of their whiskies.  Eventually they had to expand further and moved out to Midleton, Cork where they would have enough (cheaper) land to build a massive whiskey complex with an output almost twice the size of the largest malt distillery in Scotland.  In the 1990s they released a 12 year blend.  And last year they released a Single Pot Still bottling that I covet more than any other whiskey.

But here we're talking about the original Gold Label blend.  And here are some notes:


The color is a lovely full gold, probably due to some caramel colouring but it's perfect to behold.  The nose is a little grainy, but very light and fizzy, with some bourbon cask vanilla.  The pot still character shows up in the palate; vanilla bean, brown sugar, mulled wine, custard, and a teeny bit of anise. It has a very pleasant medium brown sugar and molasses finish.  Splendid.

WITH WATER (about 35% ABV)

Adding the water sweetens the nose, brings out a little sherry, and a spritely molasses note.  The palate gets creamier, full of cookie dough and vanilla extract with a light bready yeast note.  The finish is still nice and moderate with more vanilla than brown sugar.

But this one really needs to be appreciated straight up or via a good hot whiskey recipe.  No ice.  No soda water.

Grading this throws the whole objective approach out of whack.  It is by no means a complex, sophisticated, brooding whiskey.  It is happily straightforward.  It has been my favorite go-to for almost ten years for a good reason.  It is simply delicious.

Pricing - Excellent at $16-$20
Rating - 88

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