Among some Irish whisky drinkers that I know, the entry-level Powers Gold is generally considered to be of higher quality than most other common blends (i.e., Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, etc.). I haven’t had it yet, but I thought I would try the next bottle up in the series – the single pot still Powers Signature Release.
I’ve covered a few Irish single pot still whiskies before, but I realize that I haven’t explained the origin of this traditional Irish style. Originally called pure pot still, it reflects a style of Irish whisky made from a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a single pot still. As explained on my source of whisky flavour page, there are a lot of advantages to using malted barley. The addition of unmalted barley in the mix was essentially a tax dodge – to help finance the empire (especially during the Napoleonic wars), England applied a heavy tax on malted barley used in Scottish and Irish whisky production. And thus was born the pure pot still style, out of economic necessity.
While this tax was eventually rescinded, the style became popular in the early 19th century and eventually became the dominant Irish whisky form. It was eventually out-competed by low cost blended whiskies (where pot still malt whisky was combined with much cheaper grain whisky produced in continuous column stills). Indeed, the pure pot still style almost died out during the massive Irish consolidation of the 1970-80s. Green Spot and Redbreast are the only two long-standing pure pot still whiskies to have remained in (somewhat) continuous production.
The inclusion of unmalted barley introduces additional characteristics into the whisky. Chief among these are “green” fruit notes (aka tropical fruits), some additional spice (pepper in particular), and a thicker or “stickier” texture. I gather the modern term “single pot still” was only introduced to overcome objections from the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau on the use of the term “pure” (although it does accurately reflect a single distillery designation, consistent with single malt whisky).
Powers is owned and operated by Midleton, which also makes the other two single pot still whiskies described above. The whiskies used in this release were mostly matured in refill American oak bourbon barrels (as is Powers custom, to avoid overwhelming the base spirit). A smaller proportion of first fill bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks were also used to help add additional character. There is no age statement, but it is believed that the barrels used for this release are mainly in the 7-9 year old range. Given this mix, it is easy to see how you might speculate that Powers Signature Release is essentially a younger form of Redbreast 12. 😉
Here is how it compares to other whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.65 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Note there are relatively few reviews of this whisky so far.
I picked up my bottle for $60 CAD at the LCBO. Powers Signature Release is bottled at 46% ABV, which is higher than typical for whiskies in this price point, and is non chill filtered. Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: I don’t know if colourant is added, but my sample bottle is very similar in colour to my Redbreast 12 yo.
Nose: Honey and a bit of vanilla lead off, followed by typical pear and apple notes, along with plum and green banana, with a hint of raisins. Reasonably fruity, but definitely more towards the unripened fruit end. Slightly herbal, with a touch of menthol. Dill and pepper. Unfortunately, a fair amount of organic solvent off notes, contributing to the youngish sensation. The nose is also a bit shy and closed. Water brings up the pear and banana notes hugely, and adds some peach and apricot. Definitely recommend you add a little water to open up the nose.
Palate: There is more character in the mouth than the nose suggested, with an up-front hit of caramel and sweet vanilla. Similar fruits as the nose, getting even more of plums and raisins. Chocolate. Baking spices come through, cinnamon and cloves in particular. A hint of black licorice (wish there was more, in fact) and some pepper again. A fair amount of tongue tingle after you swallow (more than I would like). Chewy – a good mouthfeel initially, but too ethanol hot on the way out. Some coffee-like bitterness creeps in at the end. With water, the sweet fruit notes from the nose are accentuated, and the ethanol burn is attenuated slightly. Again, I recommend water here.
Finish: Medium short. A bit of astringency shows up over time, along with some oakiness. Mild spice persists until the end, including that anise and pepper. Water may bring up both the sweetness and bitterness.
The comparison to Redbreast 12yo is obvious – they are fairly similar in profile. However, the standard Redbreast offering does seem a bit more balanced (although adding a bit of water here does help bring it closer to Redbreast’s level). The Powers Signature is a bit sweeter in its initial approach too.
The Meta-Critic score is a little low for this one, in my view. I would personally put this on par with Writer’s Tears (both of which get an 8.4 from me). Both are decent and serviceable, but with a few youthful characteristics holding them back from being top recommendations.
The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray. Relatively low scores were given by Ralfy and Serge of Whisky Fun. For additional commentary outside of the Meta-Critic panel, you could check out Masters of Malt and Wine Enthusiast.