Tributes in whiskey are an important aspect of the industry and process. Take the Midleton Barry Crockett Edition, for example, aptly named the “Legacy” due to the impact that Irish Distiller’s Master Distiller Barry Crockett left on the brand; he was in the business for a resounding 47 years. It also happens to be the first Irish Distiller’s expression to be named for an individual distiller since John Jameson. Furthermore, the Dunville’s brand is itself a tribute to John Dumvil, the founder of Dunville & Co. This company owned the Royal Irish Distilleries at its height, which had the capacity to produce 2.5 million gallons of whiskey per annum.
My point is that tributes must be justified. What characterises the Barry Crockett whiskey and the Dunville’s brand is that they are both exclusively symbolic of their previous histories; they don’t put their name to any old hooch. This sets us up nicely for the Powers’ John’s Lane whiskey.
John’s Lane was the name of a small distillery which housed three pot stills just outside Thomas Street in Dublin. It was purchased by John Power in 1822 as their popularity grew, demanding that they upscale production to meet a massive surge in demand. In the next sixty years, the Powers brand rose, as did the distillery, which got a rebuild and expansion to facilitate the production of a massive 900,000 gallons of whiskey to be produced per annum. It covers six acres of central Dublin, an emphatic accolade that showcases the best of the Industrial Revolution.
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 and unique selling point. However, does the middle ground “Three Swallows” release befit the title more, due to its “21st century embodiment of the traditional pure Pot Still whiskey style,” or does the John’s Lane take the title?
It’s worth mentioning that this article comes at the time of a massive revamp for Powers’ branding and bottling. For me, bottles and packaging are harmonious and sell the whiskey; it’s the first thing to which I’m drawn. You don’t put a Picasso in an IKEA frame. With the Powers’ new redesign, there seems to be an immense discord regarding the newest bottle designs of a brand that has stuck to its guns for so long. It could be argued that the new bottling and the new designs gives them a fresh appeal. The brand is important (not to mention the whiskey inside—which we will come to!), which is captured in various aspects of the packaging: the adorning of the Powers ‘P,’ for example, alongside the Powers diagonal glass embossing. Even so, it’s understandable that this will be “white noise” to traditional whiskey drinkers who enjoyed the out-dated bottling and labelling; each to their own, but new and interesting sells, for me anyway. Midleton underwent a massive rebrand in the last three years, and Dunville’s arguably have overhauled theirs as well, producing some of the most striking labelling with their ‘Black Series’ single cask releases.
Now, as mentioned, you can’t have such a respected and apparently prestigious whiskey history, a traditional (but secretive) pot still recipe and a new, and a slick bottle, and fill it with just anything. I’m pleased to say that this isn’t the case here. This bottle is filled with some of the most quintessentially Irish pot still that you will get for the price. When the John’s Lane distillery was closed down, it’s quite symbolic that it was converted into buildings for the National College of Art and Design. The instruments involved in making this are not only sentimental and part of the national heritage, but artistic, involved in creating an expression of quality whiskey.
So we finally come to whiskey itself. It’s a perfect marriage of bourbon and oloroso sherry casks matured for a minimum of 12 years. This is a whiskey heralded by awards (Winner Best Irish Pot Still and World’s Best Pot Still Whiskey 2012- World Whiskies Awards) for its expression of an Irish Pot Still, symbolic as its gold colour. This is available via The Whisky Exchange for £51.95 and Master of Malt did have this for £46.90, but do shop around and support local where you can.
Powers John’s Lane – review
Colour: light golden butter.
On the nose: the freshness of fruits and spice are instantly recognisable; the fragrance and aroma are enormously appealing. it’s a pleasant whiskey to nose over and over again.
In the mouth: The traditional spice flavourings fill the mouth, all laced with blackcurrants and chocolate. The smoothness is quite uncharacteristic for a whiskey at this price, but it’s perfectly balanced with the sweetness of brown sugar and caramel. Not an explosion, or complex, but certainly a myriad of traditional flavourings that generate serious appreciation and appetite! The finish lingers perfectly, more smoothness, vanilla, spice and coffee.
This is a bottle anyone should have no qualms about buying at £50. If they released the highly-sought-after cask strength edition, it would be popular. A higher ABV would add an extra element of depth to an already quality whiskey, quite similar to a Redbreast 12. But with the John’s Lane, you get the impression that you are reliving some of the history, and feel like you’re a part of it.
As tributes go, this is a whiskey befitting of the John’s Lane title and a blueprint for future whiskey distillers, a whiskey that pays homage to the building, the location, the equipment and the people that created the Single Pot Still whiskey and put it in the limelight that it rightfully enjoys today. Although it isn’t on the same level as the Midleton Barry Crockett or any high-end Dunville’s Irish whiskey, the John’s Lane is one that you don’t mind parting with around 35-60 quid for, knowing you can forego the guilt of having spent a £100 note or more on a lesser-known or more-expensive, newer brand. The John’s Lane is an appropriately-priced, very good whiskey that just so happens to be named after the location it was first distilled; I would definitely recommend it.
Almost an 8 by the way.
Image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange and there are commission links within this article if you so wish to make a purchase and support Malt, thank you.