Thursday, March 13, 2014

Powers Whisky Changes from 80 Proof to 86.4 Proof

I recently started to notice that the rebranded Powers whisky bottles were starting to hit our shelves at the Bleecker Street Bar. While Jameson still remains as our number one Irish whisky seller at the bar, I believe that Powers is the second best seller. Now something was brought up to me the other day concerning Powers. My friend John, who is a long-time bartender asked me if we had the old Powers or the new Powers. While (at the time that I wrote this post) we still had both on the shelf, the one closest to me was the new Powers. After asking John whether or not he wanted some, he answered "they've gone and made it sweeter. They ruined it.". That got me looking at the bottles.

On the old bottle (left in the picture) I saw that Powers was listed at 40% abv or 80 proof. While the new bottle (right in the picture) was listed at 43.2% abv or 86.4 proof. I wanted to find out why the sudden change in whisky strength. I decided to head straight to the source. This is how the Powers Gold Label whisky is described on the Powers whisky website:
Powers Gold Label is a complex spice and honeyed taste experience. Every drop is triple distilled, with more cut from the top and tail of the second and third Pot Still charges. This means only the purest heart of the distillate is captured. This is then left to mature in select American oak casks which allow our distillate driven style to shine. Powers Gold Label is blended with the finest grain whiskey, also exclusively matured in American oak casks. Finally, a proprietary Powers 
production technique enables a non-chill filtration at 43.2% ABV – unique amongst Irish whiskey.

Nose: Cinnamon, clove oil and white pepper in balance with russet apples and ripe pears, on a background of charred oak.

Taste: Cinnamon, green peppers and a touch of nutmeg combined with orchard fruits, vanilla and toasted oak. All laid upon a crisp barley core.

Finish: Long Pot Still oils and spices slowly fade to rich barley and toasted wood.
Well that's all fine and dandy but it doesn't explain why the change in strength. The website Liquid Irish in their post Mighty Morphin' Powers somewhat explains the non-chill filtration process:
A more subtle change is the bump from 40% ABV to 43.2%. This means the whiskey needs no chill-filtration before bottling, a process that prevents cloudiness at low temperatures but also removes flavour-giving compounds in the spirit.

Conventional wisdom puts the cut-off ABV for rendering filtration unnecessary at 46% but the triple-distilled spirit in Powers is not so susceptible to low temps so 43.2% does the trick.
The article Powers Goes Back to Its Roots with New Look and New Whiskies on the Beverage Media Group website from October 15, 2013 clarifies the change in strength somewhat:
The two significant changes to the range include; 1) updated packaging and a return to its original export strength of 43.2% (86.4 proof) for Powers Gold Label and 2) the addition of a new Single Pot Still expression, Powers Signature Release.
Well, I guess that will have to do. I had one of our Powers' drinkers give me their impression with a blind tasting. Megan tasted both and gave the following impressions without knowing which one she was tasting. The 80 proof Powers tasted somewhat like what a lesser refined alcohol would taste like. It burned more in comparison to the 86.4 proof Powers. The newer one was much more refined and smoother. She preferred the newer version.

One one hand I have John who doesn't like the newer Powers and Megan who does. So I guess I'll have to do a blind tasting of my own to see if I can tell the difference.

I had Pete pour me two tasters which I labeled "A" and "B". I tasted each one blindly and noticed the following. "A" had a burn on the tongue and I found it to be harsh both on the tongue and to the nose. "B" on the other hand had a much more subdued nose and was softer on the tongue. It didn't have the burn that "A" did. Pete divulged that "A" was the new Powers while "B" was the older version. I couldn't tell if one version was sweeter than the other. Pete and I both agreed that the older 80 proof version was smoother than the new version. I decided to have one more person give the taste test. I had my friend Chuck, who is a Powers drinker, do the test. Here is how it went.

As with my taste test, I did his blindly and this is what he thought of the two Powers: "A" was not as strong while "B" was stronger in taste and was much sweeter than "A". For his test, "A" was the 80 proof while "B" is the 86.4 proof version.

So what does this mean? Who knows. Its amazing how four different people can have different impressions on the two Powers Irish whiskys. The change hasn't caused Powers to lose in sales at the bar. I still would rate it behind Jameson and in front of Bushmills and Tullamore Dew. What do you think out there. Any opinions on the change in proof in Powers Irish Whisky? Let me know. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts.

Until then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla