As far as widely recognized categories of whiskey go, I’d say Irish remains one of the least recognized. Part of the reason is that most casual drinkers see Irish whiskey and simply think “whiskey made in Ireland.” Yet as with many things in whiskey, it’s not so cut and dry. Irish whiskey is basically the only home for single pot still whiskey, which combines malted and unmalted barely to deliver whiskey with a wonderful mouthfeel, often contrasted by a degree of lingering spice. Most Irish whiskeys that hit both the available and affordable marks make use of single pot still whiskey, but it’s often combined with NGS (neutral grain spirit), similar to many budget scotches. All blended whiskeys aren’t created equal, however, as NGS can comprise up to 49% of the final product—exact percentages are rarely disclosed.
One of the last Irish whiskeys I looked at was Jameson Black Barrel, with the use of twice charred bourbon barrels being its primary branding point. Despite this particular emphasis, what I got out of the whiskey was consistent with single pot still whiskey (most Jameson products are blends) that makes noticeable use of sherry casks.
This brings us to Powers, a brand founded in 1791 by James Power who, at the time, was an innkeeper. A point of emphasis for Powers today is that they hone in “on the heart of the cut, and show the rest the drain…discarding more top and tail of the second and third charges” due to early and late compounds being too sharp and too earthy, respectively. The brand’s expressions are mainly aged in 2nd and 3rd fill American oak casks and non-chill filtered, with the entry-level Gold Label being an undisclosed blend bottled at 43.2% ABV. Powers flew under my radar for the longest time, so let’s see how their entry point fares:
Nose: Gummy fruit candy, like peach rings with green apple and a little honey. A touch of vanilla and, to a lesser extent, graham cracker buried beneath the fruitiness. Shortbread/biscuit note really comes out after sipping.
Palate: Light malt personality that becomes more buttery as it sits. Vanilla, light butterscotch, and a bit of peppery spice. Faint traces of fruit come and go, like watery apple and pineapple.
Finish: Light. Pepper and biscuit notes barely hold on with fruity honey.
I’m still wrestling with this one. It brings some of the qualities I enjoy in single pot still Irish whiskey, namely the mouthfeel and some of the fruity notes. I also appreciate the slight bump in ABV compared to the many 40% bottlings out there, as well as the aforementioned lack of chill filtration. However, there’s enough NGS to be noticeable, and the relative youth doesn’t do the final product any favors, either. Take everything together and we ultimately have a whiskey that’s enjoyable enough, but does more to hint at the potential of Powers higher quality bottlings.
That being said, I wouldn’t completely discount Powers Gold Label. Pricing and availability on world whiskey is a crapshoot here in the States, and an expression like Powers breaks that mold just a bit by being available, affordable, and reasonable. It doesn’t knock my socks off, but that simply can’t be expected from a $35 bottle. Furthermore, all that most whiskey needs to do at that point is be enjoyable enough, which is the exact tier Powers Gold Label punches at.