Powers John's Lane
This is another in a series of occasional writings about a particular whiskey. Rather than the standard review and tasting notes, I tend to focus on the story about a whiskey, the occasion I found myself drinking it, who I was with, or some other hopefully interesting anecdote.
Game changer. This is how I would simply describe IDL’s release of Powers John’s Lane in early 2011. Prior to its release, the single pot still whiskey drinking world was limited to Greenspot and Redbreast. (Oh, the suffering!) As good as these 2 whiskeys are, the release of Powers John’s Lane was a watershed moment for Irish whiskey. With this release, IDL not only hearkened drinkers back to single pot still’s heyday but expanded the range of what single pot still whiskey could be.
John’s Lane whiskey was named after the original Power’s distillery in Dublin, which had closed in 1971 bringing up until recently an end to the capital city’s whiskey production. The whiskey was marketed as an ode to the past when the single pot still style dominated the whiskey landscape. If true, it immediately made people wonder just how good things must have been back then. John’s Lane is a single pot still, aged primarily in bourbon casks, non-chill filtered, and bottled at 46% abv. Different than Greenspot or Redbreast, this offering revved up the best elements of Powers. Spicy and chewy with a lingering finish that coats your tongue. You may find yourself literally chewing on the finish; however, this desire is usually replaced by another sip instead.
This is a very robust sipping whiskey meant to be savored. The power of John’s Lane whiskey (no pun intended) was reinforced at one IWSA tasting event. Our lineup that night was anchored by Midleton Very Rare, an expensive and special offering meant to highlight the night. Unfortunately we made the mistake of including the just released John’s Lane as the next to last offering. Everyone was astounded by the John’s Lane. When we were able to get people to move on to the next whiskey, it underwhelmed despite being one of most premium and sought after Irish blends in Midleton VR. That night we learned about the importance of lineup order in our whiskey tastings.
I can’t undersell the significance at the time of this release. The first new single pot still issue since Redbreast’s revival 25 years earlier and a promise by IDL of more to come. The next several years saw releases of Yellow Spot, Redbreast 21yr, Paddy Centennial, and Barry Crocket’s Legacy to name a few. But it all started with John’s Lane. In addition to the quality of the whiskey, many Irish whiskey fans, myself included, were enamored with the re-emergence of the Powers brand. Powers had been the most popular and best-selling whiskey in Ireland. Despite this reality, Pernod Ricard chose Jameson as their brand to lead Irish whiskey back to prominence several years earlier. This included a full blown marketing campaign and the budget to support it. Powers was still beloved by the Irish and whiskey drinkers in the know but the release of John’s Lane was like a reward for loyalty. The release was quickly regarded as one of the best Irish whiskeys on par with Redbreast. This sentiment was echoed by noted whiskey expert Jim Murray, who named John’s Lane his Irish whiskey of the year in 2012.
The Power's lineup of whiskeys had long been my favorite but this release further solidified my preference. With this release, drinkers were also reintroduced to some history and education. With the purchase of a bottle came a booklet with information about the historical John’s Lane distillery in Dublin. The booklet contained an excerpt from Alfred Barnard’s famous work as well as a map of the distillery.
My curiosity was ignited about the history and significance of this now closed distillery. On the former distillery site now stands the College of Art and Design with its requisite campus and buildings. However, an under publicized fact at the time was that the copper pot stills from the old distillery remained in place. Upon my return to Dublin in early 2012 I ventured out to see if I could locate the stills that used to make Powers whiskey decades earlier.
I was staying at the Jury’s Inn Christchurch which is located a relatively short distance up the hill from the National College of Art and Design on Thomas street. I ventured out with my camera looking forward to experiencing some whiskey history in a different way. The school’s entrance is through two large blue wooden doors into a courtyard facing several buildings. One of the first things you see is the security office approximately 50 yards inside the gates. Not knowing where to go, I decided to ask those inside the office. Big mistake. Keep in mind that my knowledge of the existence of these pot stills was acquired from a tourist guide website promoting a visit. Needless to say my request to see the old Powers copper pot stills was quickly and bluntly rebuffed. You see, I was interfering with students’ education, “Didn’t I know that this was a school?” Explaining that I just wanted to see the stills, not sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture was not going to change any minds. I was unceremoniously asked to leave.
Now I have drank whiskey in over a hundred different pubs around Ireland over the years. Some I remember better than others if you know what I mean. In all those instances, no matter how much I may have drank, I was never asked to leave. So now I had the indignation of getting kicked out of an art school while stone sober. I remedied the situation upon my subsequent return to Dublin in the fall. I may be dumb but I’m not stupid. My second trip I followed the simple rule of “act like you belong” and simply walked through the courtyard past the security office like I knew what I was doing.
The pot stills reside just on the other side of where I was stopped in my first attempt. Now green with age, the copper pot stills served as a central landmark within the courtyard where students now sat to talk, read, or simply relax. At the time, the existence of these stills was definitely underplayed. No plaque or signs existed to promote or commemorate the historical significance of these stills (at least thru 2015). In late 2016, a restoration commenced which removed overgrown trees and shrubbery, cleaned graffiti, and fixed much of the brick foundation near its former glory. I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area. Apparently a walking tour is even being planned. Bring a flask with some Powers John’s Lane in it to celebrate the occasion. Just don’t ask anyone in the security office if they want a swig.