Is there a name more synonymous with Irish whiskey than Powers? Everyone currently wants a Powers single cask to their name, SuperValu, Facebook groups and bars alike, but the Friend at Hand has always had an eye, a nose, and a palate for sussing out suitable casks. Redbreast and Midleton have been popular for the intrepid shopper thus far, but can they uphold their quality with their selection for Powers?
Powers whiskey can be traced all the way back to 1791, initially trading under the name of James Power and Son. Having relocated from James Powers’ public house, they moved into John’s Lane in Dublin; such was the spirit’s popularity. The demand for the spirit was considerable, and by 1833, it had grown to produce 300,000 gallons per annum, which eventually developed over the next 50 years to 900,000 gallons per annum. Having gone through several rebrands and renovations, Powers Gold Label was born, and the distillery’s own whiskey upheld its position as one of the sought-after whiskies in the world alongside Jameson and George Roe.
Like I’ve harped on about enough in previous articles, Irish whiskey was subject to a lamented demise. With prohibition, world wars and the rise of scotch dominating the landscape, most distilleries became unprofitable and subsequently closed. The closing of John’s Lane distillery and the subsequent merging of Jameson and Cork Distilleries to set up base in Midleton Distilleries felt like a necessary move; however, Powers would become part of Irish whiskey’s renaissance and chorused revival.
The popularity of Powers could be somewhat put down to its traditional pot still whiskeys; unlike other Pot Still Irish whiskey, Powers discards more top and tail of the second and third charges in the distilling process. What is known, though, is that the mash bill remains a secret, granting this a distinctive air. Its releases have been varied and widespread: John’s Lane, a firm favourite for pot still supporters, gold label, a classic and cheap all-rounder, the three swallows, a mid-range marvel.
The Friend at Hand shop, as mentioned, deserves a shout out too. It’s more like a museum with a passion for history, relics of Irish whiskey and some almighty craic. It takes pride in its home in Belfast, with the selection of its single cask whiskies required to meet certain principles and standards. The Powers whiskey is described as “Complex. Curious. Brave. Much like Belfast itself, this special Powers single cask release is a meeting of minds and strong characters. One of a kind. Never to be recreated. A true Friend at Hand.” I should add that I arrived at The Friend at Hand on a day it was closed, but the shopkeeper, who happened to be walking past, duly opened the shop for me like it was no incumbrance at all; a true friend at hand for me!
So, let’s talk about the whiskey itself then. Cask number 4712 was bonded on 23 Jan 2003 and released as a 14-year-old, single pot still Irish whiskey. It’s non-chill filtered but has no indication of added colouring. It is bottled at 46% and was priced at a whopping £175. It does come in probably the most admirable wooden case I have seen, laser cut with the engraving of the Friend at Hand, but probably most notable, it is the older Power bottle. Recently, amid much resentment from Irish whiskey purists, Powers conducted a rebrand in an attempt to contemporise their brand. While the rebrand adds a certain ‘freshness’ to the brand, there’s something to be said for older bottles. The three swallows on the neck, the distinctive ‘P’ with the diamond and John Power emblazoned signature on the back all infer a certain nostalgia and reminiscences of the 1800s during the growth of Powers. Indeed, one of those ‘for special occasions’ whiskeys.
Nose: An orchestration of typical pot still notes. There are spicy black peppercorns, spearmint and other herbal notes on the nose. The toasted wood with caramelised apples and aniseed truly represents that quintessential Irish style, making it a perfect nosing whiskey.
Palate: There’s peppermint straight off the bat, with more fruit slowly coming prevalent. The classic spicey notes remain, but this time more cinnamon and cloves take the palate to the next level. There’s some liquorice and bitter dark chocolate too, invoking a nostalgic trip back to John’s Lane.
Finish: A very warming, inviting and prolonged finish with more spice and a hint of freshly brewed espresso continue the symphony of flavours, all wonderfully executed.
This is a proper Irish pot still whiskey. I have tried many a pot still whiskies over my few years of enjoying the spirit. However, this one certainly carries Powers’ traditional pot still style, which it rightfully states ‘bears the hallmark of spicy flavours and robust character,’ distinctive of Powers Irish whiskey. Having fallen in love with Redbreast’s characteristic pot still concoctions, I feel that this is a whiskey that has ‘come of age’ and exemplifies the excellent standing of Irish pot still whiskies.
It’s not the perfect whiskey and lacks a little depth, but what it does lack, it certainly makes up for in big, dominant flavours. The price is too high, but as I’ve mentioned, due to the continuous surge in demand, single cask Irish whiskey now comes at a premium.
This is probably one of my highest scores writing for the Water of Life, and whilst I may get some flak for the high score with regards to the price, it is just a quality whiskey, and one that, if it were to be produced at cask strength, would easily add at least a half or full point to become a 9; it is that good.