The pantheon of Irish Single Pot Still Whiskies is small, but I personally consider the style to be one of my favorites. Something about the distillation of malted barley (as in single malt) with unmalted barley in the same pot still plumbs the depths of that grain’s capacity for complexity while offering more body and an almost inherent polish that’s hard to find equaled even in the world of single malt scotch. I’ve reviewed a book on the subject, and my original review of Redbreast 12 contains my thoughts on the style as a whole.
Despite the “Powers” name, this release bears little resemblance to the bottom-shelf Powers blend, which is a typical Irish blended whiskey containing both pot-still whiskey and cheap grain whiskey. The John’s Lane bottling is 100% single (formerly “pure”) pot still Irish whiskey. It has as much relation to blended Powers as Aberfeldy single malt has to Dewar’s, or Mortlach to Johnnie Walker.
It’s worth pointing out that Powers John’s Lane and Redbreast are almost the same whiskey. Both are triple-distilled in copper pot stills by Midleton from a recipe of both malted and unmalted barley and both aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon and sherry casks, although Redbreast uses a far higher percentage of sherry. John’s Lane boasts a lack of chill filtration and a slightly higher bottling proof (46% versus 40%), but also a substantially higher price tag. Recipes are hard to come by, but it appears that John’s Lane uses a heavier “mod pot” distillate than Green Spot or Redbreast. (Midleton is known for being able to produce a virtuosic range of distillates from the same pot stills.)
Let’s see how they compare in the glass.
Nose: Rich! Dense honey, dried apricots, nutmeg, brown sugar. Decadent and full. Only a very light touch of the single pot still signature oiliness, which usually smells to me like soot and engine grease (but in a good way?). A rest in the glass develops the hearty coconut note that I find in Redbreast 12.
Palate: Medium oily body. A surge of coconut water greets the tongue, which burns almost imperceptibly. The flavors then unfold as promised by the aroma – decadent caramelized sugars, gingerbread and spice cookies, candied nuts, and chewy nougat.
Finish: A hint of soot, a sparkle of sweet green barley, and a total lack of bitterness accompany the fading remnants of the palate notes. Turns drier as it departs, but without much tannin.
With Water: A few drops of water release a flurry of grassy notes, licorice (anise), black pepper. The palate gains a slight tartness – apricot again – but is more muddled. The finish may be brighter, with a hint of mint. Water is a curiosity here, but definitely taste without the water first.
Overall: This is very similar to Redbreast 12, although with a few marked differences: It lacks some of the chewy body and industrial oils that make Redbreast (and this style) distinctive, but it trades on those weaknesses to offer heightened sweetness, mellow balance, polish, and a total lack of “off notes” like raw green barley or vegetal bitterness. I’ve started to think of John’s Lane as “dessert Redbreast”, but the truth is that a beginner to the style is unlikely to notice (or care about) the differences. Considering that Redbreast is $47 at my local store, and John’s Lane is $70, I would only suggest this to lovers of the style who are bored with Redbreast and find Green Spot too mild. At $70 this is definitely a “splurge” bottle for me. Note that some retailers appear to be discounting this to the $55 range – I’d consider that a steal.
I’m calling this a “Must Try” only if you’ve already tried (and appreciated) Redbreast 12. If not, think of that one as a “Must” first.