Whiskey Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

With St. Patrick’s Day only a few days away, it seems like a good time to review one of the more historic bottles of Irish whiskey that you can find on the shelf. It might not get as much of the spotlight as Jameson or some of the newer brands, but Powers is a label that has been around since the late 1700’s and was responsible for revolutionizing the Irish whiskey industry.



James Power was an innkeeper in Dublin, Ireland who owned a small public house at 109 Thomas St., Dublin. Wanting to provide a little more home-grown comfort to his patrons, he installed a copper pot still on the premises in 1791 and began trading the resulting whiskey as “James Power and Son”. The business flourished, moving to a new standalone distillery in 1822 off Thomas Street, and they subsequently benefited greatly from the Irish government reforming the laws in 1823 to encourage local distillers.

The distillery was at its peak in the 1880s, covering six full acres of Dublin and producing 900,000 gallons of spirits every year. Historically, those spirits were sold to other merchants for blending and bottling (just like their Scottish counterparts) but in 1886 the now-dubbed John Power & Son began bottling their own whiskey and selling it under their name — the first Irish whiskey to do so in history. That original bottle was dubbed “Powers Gold Label” with other variants to follow in the years to come.

Powers was a leading innovator in another way as well: they were the first Irish distiller to embrace the use of a column (or continuous) still. Most distilling had been done in small batches in pot stills through the 1960’s, but in 1961 Powers installed a column still in their distillery — a quicker and cheaper distillation method for making whiskey, but one that was typically less flavorful than the traditional method. Originally shunned by other distilleries for producing what they considered an inferior quality spirit, the financial success that the Powers Distillery saw from blending that cheaper column-produced spirit with their pot still distilled product convinced the remaining distilleries to embrace this blended approach as well.

Despite the improved economics of blended whiskey, the lasting impact of the American era of prohibition along with the changing tastes of the time hit the Irish distilleries hard, and in 1966 John Power & Son along with all of the remaining Irish distilleries (including John Jameson & Son) came together to form the Irish Distillers group. Together, they closed all of their original distilleries and moved to a new combined distillery in Midleton. Unfortunately, even that drastic cost savings measure wasn’t enough and in 1989 the entire industry was purchased by the French spirits company Pernod Ricard who continues to own and operate the brand to this day.


The manufacturing of Powers whiskey continues to take place at the combined Midleton distillery, using the same process they have used since the 1960’s of blending pot still spirits with lesser quality grain spirits to create the finished product.

For the pot still distilled spirits, the distillery starts out with the traditional blend of malted and unmalted barley that is unique to the Irish distilling heritage (Scottish distillers typically use only malted barley). That barley is cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid that is then distilled three times in copper pot stills to create the raw white whiskey. Powers prides itself on making tighter “cuts” in their distillation process, discarding more of the “heads” and “tails” of the distillation run to focus on the delicious “hearts” of the run (more details here on what that means). That’s bad economics for the distillery, since they get less volume in finished spirits, but typically better for the consumer with a higher quality resulting product.

That characterful and delicious whiskey is then blended with grain spirit — probably a corn-based whiskey that is mass produced in their column stills. This bland and uninteresting whiskey is cheap to produce, which lets the distillery stretch their supply of the expensive stuff while still maintaining the desired alcohol content.

That blended whiskey is then placed into previously used American whiskey barrels for a period of at least three years. American bourbon barrels are used because they are cheap and plentiful — bourbon requires a new barrel each time, but Irish whiskey can re-use those barrels nearly infinitely. Once properly matured, the whiskey is bottled and shipped for sale.


This is one of the oldest brands of whiskey in the world to have its own bottle, and the design work here certainly makes it feel historic.

The bottle is a cylindrical shape like an old fashioned medicine bottle, with straight walls that eventually curve into a stepped shoulder. I appreciate that there are some layers to the shoulder instead of one continuous rounded or straight piece of glass — it makes the bottle feel antique and a bit different, which is very much on brand for what they are trying to do. The three layers of the shoulder also reflect the triple distillation process, but whether that’s intentional or just me reaching for connections… who knows.

Moving down to the label, I love this funky and bold yet old-fashioned design. It might not be the actual original design from way back when, but it certainly evokes a historical style and stands out on the shelf among so many other square labels. The tilted rhombus also allows for more of the whiskey in the bottle to be visible, which I appreciate.

Each variety of the whiskey has its own color, and the “Gold Label” version here is actually red.



This incarnation of the famous Powers Gold Label continues the tradition of being a blended whiskey, and you can tell as soon as you take a whiff of what’s coming off the glass. The aroma is pleasing and sweet, like a delicious Werther’s Original — caramel, vanilla, with just a hint of cinnamon and some sourdough bread. It’s light and nondescript, like you’d expect from a column distilled spirit.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot more flavor in the glass than the aroma might lead you to believe. The hallmark of a blended whiskey is that the aroma is great but the flavor is lacking, and this flips that expectation on its head.

Right off the bat, I get a very nice melon and honey flavor like you might expect from a highland scotch whisky, but with more of a saturation than normal. That’s followed quickly by some vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar that are all probably components that were picked up from the barrel maturation process. On the finish, the barrel aging really kicks into high gear with some baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon making an appearance.

Taken neat, this drinks more like a scotch whisky than an Irish version: fruity and surprisingly delicious.

On Ice

This is an interesting test for this specific whiskey — blended spirits tend to fall apart with the addition of some ice, and what you’ll normally see are the boring components of the mass-produced portion of the blend come through while the more characterful items from the carefully crafted pot still section fall away. In this case, while I think there are some cracks in the armor, the flavors that we get are still pretty good.

I had expected the fruity and floral elements to be completely washed away, and while they have definitely been reduced in strength compared to what we saw when taken neat… they still exist. I’m getting that melon and honey flavor coming through the ice, and they actually might be the loudest remaining flavors from what we originally tasted. There’s still some brown sugar and baking spices, but those are significantly weaker in this test.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I’m usually the kind of person who prefers a darker and richer spirit for their old fashioned, but this one works surprisingly well. It’s a lighter and more herbal take on the cocktail, one where the roles are a bit reversed. Usually the spirit is dark and brooding, meaning that the bitters are there to add some levity. In this case, though, the bitters are providing the dark and brooding flavors while the whiskey adds some levity with the honey and fruity melon components.

There’s a good balance here and a surprising level of depth for something that seems so simple on the surface. I feel like if you were to experiment with maybe some added juice from some Luxardo cherries this might become even better.

Cocktail (Irish Maid)

If you’re looking for the best way to use this spirit, then an Irish Maid might be the right choice. I’m sure we’ll do a full article on the cocktail at some point, but it’s a delicious cocktail that really emphasizes the herbaceous and sweet elements of this whiskey and uses them to your advantage.

This cocktail is so good that my wife, who usually hates anything with whiskey, actually asks for it by name. It’s that good.

Fizz (Mule)

Generally speaking, this whiskey has done very well throughout the testing… until this point. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad with the way that this Kentucky Mule tastes, but there’s one problem with it: I can’t taste the whiskey at all.

What I’m looking for here is that the whiskey not only adds some needed balance to the mixers in this cocktail, but also that it provides something unique and different to the texture or the flavor profile. If I just wanted to mellow out the ginger beer and add some alcohol content, then a bit of simple syrup and some vodka would do the job (aka a Moscow Mule). But I’m looking for something interesting and different that lets me know I’m drinking whiskey, not vodka… and I don’t get that here.


Overall Rating

Of all the Irish whiskies that you could be trying this year, this is certainly a worthwhile investment in time and money. There are plenty of good flavors here, an interesting backstory to the spirit, and some of the cocktails you can make with this are pretty darned good.

I think where this starts to fall apart for me is the fact that there’s still a lot of cheap column still whiskey blended into the mix. I’m left wondering how amazing their 100% pot stilled version would be while only catching glimpses of that delicious spirit on each sip. Also a bit disappointing is all of that lost history of the distillery and its facilities, abandoned in a cost cutting measure and breaking that linkage between the original Power family and the modern version. It’s a historical whiskey in name only at this point.

Let me put it this way — you could do a whole lot worse when it comes to Irish whiskey… but you could also do much better.

Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey
Produced By: Powers
Owned By: Pernod Ricard
Production Location: Ireland
Classification: Blended Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $34.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A surprisingly sweet and floral spirit with a long history, but one where the decision to blend the whiskey leads to some disappointing use cases.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.