Comparative Review: Jameson vs. Powers

I am not a big blend drinker. I got started on single-malt Scotch and that has irrevocably spoiled me for anything distilled. That being said, some days the proverbial moths in the wallet might induce one to cut back on the single-malt budget and go in for something a little cheaper. Furthermore, sometimes one might receive a visitor from out of town, and after one waxes poetic for 20 minutes about the delights of single-malt Scotch, this visitor may have the gall to ask for a whisky-and-soda… on ICE.

The simple truth is that inexpensive blends make up some 90% of the Scotch market (and an even larger percent of the Irish whiskey market). While there are certainly some fine blends, definitely even a few that are better than your average single-malt, in general blends are popular because they are easy to drink, mix well, and are above all cheap. Today I explore two of the biggest names in blended Irish whiskey: Jameson and Powers Gold Label. Both are less than $20 US per 750ml bottle and are widely available in the US.



Jameson
40% ABV

Jameson is cheap. By that I mean inexpensive, as this spirit is surprisingly complex, flavorful, and smooth for an $18 bottle of blended Irish whiskey. It is triple-distilled and is actually a blend comprised of pure (or single?!) pot still whiskey and a grain whiskey made from unmalted barley and other grains. The pure pot still component of the blend is also bottled alone and sold as Redbreast. Jameson is considered to be the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey.

The nose is sharp, but with hints of vanilla, grape skins, and filtered apple juice.

The attack is expectedly dry, but a few seconds on the tongue reveals cereally sweetness, citrus peel, and tropical fruits like banana and kiwi. There is a firm body, but no coat-your-mouth viscosity. The finish is short, but complete with the same floral and bitter-fruit notes from the aroma.

This is no single-malt Scotch, but it is a pleasant and very drinkable whiskey with unexpectedly bright, available flavors, a smooth mouthfeel, and no “cringe” in the aftertaste. A splash of water in the glass (but no ice!) improves the experience, and makes the flavors more apparent to both the nose and the tongue.
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Powers Gold Label
40% ABV

Powers Gold Label is the best-selling Irish whiskey in its native Ireland. It retails slightly cheaper than Jameson in the US, at $16 a bottle. Like Jameson, it is blended whiskey, some combination of pure pot-still whiskey with column-still grain whiskey (allegedly 70% pure pot still to 30% grain).

The nose is mellow, with upfront buttery caramel and bright honeyed cereal. There is also a little fruit, like a bit of blackberry jam or cherry pie filling. There is also an overtone of shoe polish and something greasy, like machine oil. A splash of water opens up some herbal, grassy notes, but they are indistinct.

One the palate you get a wash of melted butter and shortbread, then quite a lot of dryness, which finally subsides with cinnamon, clove, toffee and green apple skins. The body is quite full, with a slightly oily quality. There is also a predominant dryness that is unfortunately similar to bottom-shelf vodka, which detracts from the sweet cereal and spice flavors. A splash of water cuts through the body, without adding much in terms of flavor, except perhaps a few hints of fruit blossoms or mown grass.

The finish starts small and grows, giving you loads of honey, graham cracker, butterscotch, and more green apple skins.
ScotchNoobâ„¢ Mark:


Conclusion

In terms of quality, Jameson wins by virtue of its smooth, crisp dryness against Powers’ rough edges. Powers, however, has more interesting and lip-smacking flavors. Both are excellent neat or with a splash of water, and I suppose in a pinch you could mix them for cocktails. They certainly both give The Glenlivet 12, the ubiquitous ‘inexpensive’ single-malt, a run for its money.

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15 Comments

15 Responses to Comparative Review: Jameson vs. Powers

  1. Brian says:

    Powers is much smoother than Jameson and it doesn’t give me pounding headaches.

  2. mark says:

    Bushmills makes some great single malt 10,16 and 21 I believe. Also for around 30 bucks blackbush is awesome and made od 90% single malt and some grain.

  3. ck says:

    I’ve been trying out the Irish blends lately, andI’d have to say i’d pick Killbeggan over Jameson these days. Haven’t tried powers yet…

    • @ck I haven’t tried it, but Kilbeggan is made by Cooley, which has built a very nice portfolio of quality Irish whiskey, including blends, pure pot still, and single malt. I will make an effort to give this one a try and compare. :)

  4. Michael says:

    Power’s is my favorite of the cheap Irish whiskeys. Kilbeggan is very good though, and I may have to do a direct comparison against Power’s very soon.

    I also found Power’s is my one of favorite whiskeys to turn to after an evening of single malts with friends. There’s a certain point where some of the subtleties in a good single get lost, so switching to Powers is a good economic choice.

    Or Finlaggan, that’s been my go-to recently.

  5. Michael says:

    I don’t buy into the whole single-malt thing. There are darn good blends made from the better single-malts and they can be blended in a way that creates something more balanced and complex than the one spirit from the one place (or mixed with inferior spirits). The whiskey from the Glenlivet distillery also gets put into Chivas Regal. Try a bunch of single-malts side by side with Johnny Walker and you’ll begin to figure out which whiskeys are in that blend.

    I think the allure of single-malts has more to do with the peat and that they’re usually aged longer. You can find well-aged whiskeys of other varieties and other whiskey brands that go for the same peatiness. As for age, try a Redbreast 15 year old Irish Whiskey. That’s all pot still and aged nicely. Good stuff. If you don’t like it but like your single-malts, it’s probably just the peat of the Scotch that you like. But don’t confuse that with something inherent to “single-malt.”

    Personally, I like all whiskeys, be they Scotch, Irish, Canadian, or American. They’re like women…there’s something beautiful and distinct about each. Some days I’ll like a good rye, other times a Speyside. As for this comparison, I prefer Powers over Jameson.

    • Michael, Thanks for sharing your point of view! I would add one thing: while there are only a limited number of truly excellent blends (anything costing more than, say, $30 a bottle), there are literally hundreds of amazing single malts to try, more than half of them entirely unpeated (or with so little peat that you can’t detect it). Personally (and this is just my opinion), I find it easier to find good single malts than to find good blends. Another way of putting that: I’ve been disappointed by blends more often than I’ve been disappointed by single malts.

  6. Dave says:

    Has anyone tried Knappogue Castle 12 yqer old? I bought a bottle a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it!
    I too usually prefer single malt scotches, but often times I am forced to economize. When I do, I tend to find that inexpensive Irish whiskys are generaly much better than scotches in the same price range; say around $20.
    I paid $24 for Knappogue Castle and I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought it was delicious and a great value for the money.

  7. Ben says:

    Knappogue Castle 12 yr is a great affordable choice and a unique one at that. It’s flavorful, tangy and lighter than many of its peers. Enjoy!

  8. Dave says:

    I tried Powers last night for the first time. It was recommended to me..I really enjoyed it..i am a Jameson drinker..but do believe i will be reaching for Powers for now on at the liquor store…Also i noticed this morning..No Headache!!! Hmmmmmm. I like that…

  9. jason says:

    Powers is awesome but I found it for 28 ! A bottle.

  10. Ian says:

    Bushmills Black Bush is one of my all time favorites. I just discovered Powers, which is somewhat close to the Black Bush, but for significantly cheaper. And I must agree that single malt scotch can be overrated and certainly overpriced. A great bourbon can be 1/3 of the price of a single malt or even less. Since I am not a fan of peat (smoke) I have gravitated to Irish and bourbon. If you like sherried whisky (a la Macallan) then Powers is pretty amazing for the price.

  11. DKM says:

    I know this article is a few years old, but when I’ve found Powers, it’s always more expensive then Jamesons. …which I think is justified since it’s the superior whiskey, imo. My experience with these 2 whiskeys is completely different from the authors. Jamesons finish makes me cringe, Powers finish is much smoother for me. I’d sure like to know where you got Powers for $16 a bottle.

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