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 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.
Powers Gold Label
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.
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.
Powers is much smoother than Jameson and it doesn’t give me pounding headaches.
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.
I have toured the Bushmill’s Distillary but I won’t drink Protestant whiskey.
If you’ve had Jameson’s you’ve had a little Bushmill’s too. Besides Jameson’s are curly haired Prebyterians.
Buddy alot of distillers in Ireland including King Arthur Guinness were protestants!!
Go back to drinking your methylated spirits….
Bushmills is not protestant whiskey. Besides whiskey has no religion. Get over your prejudices. The widely-accepted Irish-American version is that Jameson is Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is Protestant whiskey. But that’s merely based on geography: Bushmills is from Northern Ireland (a predominantly Protestant region) and Jameson is from Cork – Catholic country..
Jameson was pretty much founded in 1780 when John Jameson – a Scottish guy – purchased the Bow Street Distillery, which at the time was one of the biggest distilleries in Ireland. Now, it’s important to note that the Scottish Reformation occurred in 1560, so odds are in favor of the founder of the Jameson distillery, being Scottish, was a damn Protestant.
Bushmills, on the other hand, was officially licensed in 1608 by King James I (of Bible fame) and despite of its location deep in the heart of Protestant country (and this next bit is straight from my local Bushmills rep, so take it or leave it) has a Catholic as a master distiller.
Bow St distillery is in Dublin not Cork.
Jameson moved it’s distillery to Cork, although bow street is still open for tourists.
Bushmills has also released Red Bush at a slightly higher price point the white label Bushmills (about the same as Black Bush). This 80 proof offering is aged in bourbon barrels for a smoother, more complex taste.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
Powers is awesome but I found it for 28 ! A bottle.
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.
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.
I’m on my second 750ml of Powers Gold. It’s cheaper than Jameson or Bushmills. Most bars do not have Powers on the shelf, in that case I drink Jameson. Johnny Walker Black Label is my go to scotch. One of the best ryes I’ve found is Wild Turkey Rye. Can’t get it in Iowa. Have to get it from relatives in Tennessee. [admin note: edited to remove all capitals.]
I just tried Jameson Black Barrel and I was really impressed!! It seems like this is Jameson’s answer to JW Black because it’s at about the same price point and having just tried Jameson Black Barrel I’d pick that over JW Black any day of the week!!
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Had some Powers last night- hence I was looking for a few reviews to see if people enjoyed it as much as I did.
It has a bad reputation in Ireland as only being good for hot whiskeys and its an unfair reputation.
I get the original posters honey, buttery caramel nose, loads of toffee and caramel in the taste and yes at first i didn’t like the dryness, letting it sit for 10 minutes with a single cube of ice took away the dryness and gave it an oily buttery toffeeness which was fantastic and made it too easy to drink judging by my sore head.
PS you guys get it nice and cheap, in Belfast, Northern Ireland its around £18-£20 say $25 so enjoy!!
Powers actually has a great reputation and has historically been the go to whiskey for Dubliners. Also the original nip was in a small bottle called a baby power! When I was a kid I used to go up to the local off license to get a baby power for my neighbour Mrs Cox on the corner.
I’ve been trying a lot of budget and mid-priced scotches and Irish whiskeys this year and Powers Gold Label is the winner for me. It has some heat but there’s a real nice smokey, honey flavor with the traditional caramel, toffee and barley notes in there. It’s a little sweet but not overdone like Monkey Shoulder. Add an ice cube or a little water to unlock the flavors, let is sit for a few minutes while giving it an occasional swirl to smooth out the cheaper blends and you have a great daily sipper. Jameson has the same bite but I don’t like the heavy oatmeal taste. It also won’t wreck you or taste off like Teachers or Famous Grouse. Blackbush is another nice choice but tends to be more pricey where I am.
Good synopsis, Dave! I like your approach. I personally think Monkey Shoulder is a pretty good deal for the money (all malt and in the mid-$20?), and while I think it’s a little on the sweet side, I don’t find it overdone – I’ll be doing a review eventually. Jameson is a little less flavorful than Powers, I’ll give you that – it tends to be leaner. I agree with your assessment of Teachers and Grouse – too much grain whisky, too harsh. Cheers!
I’ve been drinking Powers for 20 years. Lately the price has increased from 19 to 25 a bottle ( Ma). Now has a cork bottle cap and a lether name plate around the neck. I also think they are using less pot still in the blend. Taste is more like rye. Think I’ll try Red Breast and kilbeggan!
Smooth but not for me! I have drunk Jamesons and Bushmills when they have been offered . I find both of them very light and fruity with an overall taste that is smooth and very very light. Maybe that accounts for its popularity.
As a single malt Scotch drinker I find that these and most other Irish whiskies lack the complexity and on palate taste sensations. They are also very short after the initial taste on the palate.
I really had to think hard about my preference for Scottish single malts and was I being overly critical of Jamesons and the other Irish whiskies and I truly believe that because of the very mild taste and lack of aftertaste they don’t cut it for me, but from a commercial standpoint their mild flavors make it very attractive to the person that has never liked a good single malt.
I am comfortable with all the Scottish malts from the Glenkinchie. to a full blown Island malt such as Lagavulin.
I had Powers for the first time yesterday at the wake for Mike McCourt at Original Joe’s in San Francisco. Actually, I had a lot of them. This was my first Irish wake. The place was full of Mike’s admirers from a forty year career as a beloved bartender. Powers was lined up and flowing freely. I thoroughly enjoyed it neat, and woke up this morning feeling fine. I am thankful for Mike’s legacy and for the management of Original Joe’s for making this generous tribute possible!
Try $38 per bottle in Central Texas…under $20 stuff around here comes in a plastic bottle…lucky you if you get it cheaper…good whiskey, smoother and tastier than Jameson, but lacks J’s harder, dryer punch which I really enjoy…wouldn’t kick either of them out of bed. Cheers
This Scotsman doesn’t care for the peat, despite the fact I’ve tried to give it a break as an “acquired-taste.” Truly tried to give it the ol’ college try with several single malts, but I still don’t like it. As for Powers vs. Jameson, I’ll take Powers every time. Respectfully, though, I think anybody who adds a cube or a splash should be shot at sunrise!
the reviewer was out of his mind at the time he drank the powers. that stuff is the smoothest 80 proof ever… jameson is like drinking turpentine comparatively.
also paddy is the big seller among the irish in ireland. power is way better than paddy to anybody but the label addicted or the paid snarf.
I must say, this was a surprisingly positive set of reviews, especially considering the blended scotch whisky bashing elsewhere! I cut my teeth on blended Irish and Canadian whiskies, so naturally, I’ve a soft spot for light and sweet flavors in single malts others might decry as being “boring”. Have you tried the Jameson Select Reserve?
Thanks for the comment! I haven’t tried the Select Reserve yet, but it’s on my (so very long) list. I tend to shy away from the more-expensive blends, because I like to try them first before laying out for a bottle (whereas I know I’ll always have a use for a $20 blend). Cheers!
I’ve heard, from Ralfy (Scotsman, Ralfy.com) that the Auchentoshan distillery, in Glasgow, originally created triple distilled spirit for the incoming Irishmen laborers, working at the local ship yards. Any truth to this dram being in common with traditional Irish Whiskey?
I believe that’s correct. In fact, it’s generally considered to be true (although I don’t think there’s a ton of proof) that Auchentoshan was founded by Irish settlers fleeing famines in Ireland. It certainly has a lot of the hallmarks of traditional Irish whiskey, although in keeping with practices in Scotland, it uses a mash of 100% malted barley, as opposed to the (then) more traditional Irish practice of mixing various grains, both malted and unmalted, into the mash (aka single pot still whiskey). Still, its lighter style is similar to single malts made in Ireland, such as Bushmills.
As Texas Coach noted, I’m not sure Powers can be called really cheap anymore. Seems to have made it’s way up to $35 USD in CA. Has something happened to the market since your review in 2013 or has it become that much more popular? I bought it on a whim and am eternally greatful that I did. I will be a staple I my liquor cabinet now.
They will charge whatever the market will bear! Here in Illinois we can still get Powers for $20 and Powers Signature Release (single pot) for about $40. Those are my go to whiskeys these days and occasionally a single malt like McCallan. Twenty years ago my wife bought me a bottle of 25 year old McCallan for $175. Well worth it! I saw it for sale recently for $1750…….
I’m not a Jameson fan. Only if nothing else is available. Powers is my choice among Irish whiskey followed by Tullamore Dew and then Bushmill.
Bought my first bottle of Powers Gold Label this evening for $30. That’s not a “cheap” whiskey here in Virginia. Started with a splash of water and found it pleasant and unremarkable. I like it.
Started drinking Powers 5 years ago after being introduced to it by a wonderful bar-owner in Westwood , Ca. , Hi Mary. Before Powers it was Tullamore Dew which is decent . Powers was $ 20.00 then and as it grew in popularity so did the price which is now $ 30.00. Great whiskey , Powers over Jameson any day .
I’m tasting a Powers v. a Paddy tonight. I’m Irish, living in Ireland. I’m suspicious of Jameson because they spend so much on advertising!
One reviewer above mentioned a preference for Irish over Scotch in low-budget choices. An airport saleswoman (selling Scotch) once told me Irish is more palatable because is is full of sugar/caramel and she may be right. She was stating this as a negative, but if it improves the taste … sure why not?!!
Powers Three Swallows is a nice choice, further up the scale. Very smooth.