It’s odd to think that until recently, 1987 to be exact, there were basically just two functioning whiskey distilleries on the entire island of Ireland. The state of Irish Whiskey must have been in a terrible state in 1966 when John Jameson & Sons teamed up with the Cork Distilleries Co. and John Power & Sons, closed down all but the one distillery in Cork and named themselves Irish Distillers Group. I wonder how long they all sat around a table to come up with that name? Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that meeting:
“We need a name for this merger, something snappy, fresh and original…any ideas?”
“How about ‘Diageo'”?
“What the hell is that? Sounds like a station-wagon made by Hyundai! No it’s gotta be slick and adventurous but at the same time has to tell who we are and what we do…”
(Long, long…long pause…)
“How ’bout, get this, (big flourish of hands) ‘Irish Distillers Group’…eh…eh?”
At that point, I’m guessing either the phone rang or they all got hungry and went for such an epic business lunch that they forgot what they were talking about, leaving the secretary, Margaret O’Leary (possibly…what do I know?) to fill out the paperwork and seeing as she herself was fairly hungry, not to mention short on patience with these boys, just wrote down the first thing that popped into her head.
So there it is, Ireland’s three big distillers joined forces the same year that Black Monk Time by the Monks, A Quick One by the Who, and Freak Out by Frank Zappa (ok, technically the Mothers of Invention) were released on vinyl. Why they decided on the cryptic name, Irish Distillers Group, we’ll probably never know. By 1972, they’d headed north and bought up Bushmills as well, thereby controlling all of the whiskey making on the Emerald Isle until Cooley thankfully opened it’s doors in 1987. A year after that, Irish Distillers was purchased by Pernod Ricard and then 18 years after that, in 2005, Diageo (the company, not the station wagon) swooped in and bought Bushmills.
Powers remains the most popular whiskey in Ireland and it’s easy to see why, for such an inexpensive, “everyday” whiskey, it has a relatively high percentage of pure pot still giving it a bit more character than it’s similarly priced brethren. This expression, the Reserve 12 year old, is essentially that same great, triple-distilled entry-level stuff, aged for a while in American oak barrels.
The Nose: A caramel-y wave of sweet, ripe pears and apples starts things off, with a bit of tropical fruit, and cocoa running alongside. There’s a really nice wood spice quality and sweetened, toasted grain notes. That sharp, quick pure pot still quality is there but it’s a little subdued.
The Palate: A rich oily mouthfeel, with semi-sweet chocolate leading to some stewed fruit before honeyed but spicy grain swells. The grain is well balanced by the mildly tannic wood and metallic pot still notes. Bright cinnamon notes follow with a little clove and towards the end, a nice acidity and a sharp little rye-like bite.
The Finish: Nicely tannic, crisp, sweet grain, with a little flash of bitter coffee, believe it or not.
Thoughts: It took me a while to warm up to this one, the nose is subtle and initially the palate seemed a little simplistic. But after sitting with it for a few minutes, I think it opened up more, the palate sort of stretched out and revealed a really nice structure, complexity and balance. One thing I love about regular ol’ Powers is the high percentage of sharp, brittle, Pot Still whiskey, I missed that quality here a little, perhaps the time in barrel softens that aspect. I have to admit I was expecting something a bit more powerful and assertive, but in the end, I really ended up liking the Special Reserve, it’s a smooth, excellent, mature Irish blend. I hate the term, but this would be a great “session” whiskey.