How Ireland Is Rediscovering and Reinventing Rye Whiskey

Powers just launched a 100% Irish rye whiskey that’s refined, complex and ... sexy?

March 16, 2023 11:07 am
A close-up of a bottle of Powers Irish Rye, the first modern 100% Irish rye whiskey
Powers Irish Rye is the first 100% Irish rye whiskey
Irish Distillers

“It’s kind of sexy for Irish whiskey.”

An odd claim, but that’s how Master Distiller Eric Ryan describes the new Powers Irish Rye, a 100% rye whiskey that’s unique within the modern Irish whiskey world. While rye has been a component of Irish whiskey in the past — and a bit in the present (see: Kilbeggan, Method & Madness) — the grain has usually only made up a small percentage of the whiskey’s mashbill, and the rye itself, at least in the present day, has been imported from other parts of Europe.

This rye, however, is 100% Irish-grown. 

“Back in 2015, we went looking for an Irish farm that would grow rye,” Ryan tells InsideHook over a few Powers Rye Manhattans (recipe below). “But it had disappeared almost completely from Ireland. It’s interesting: we can grow any grain we want, but farmers were looking for income, so they started moving toward wheat and barley, so we actually had to commission a farm to grow the rye, over 66 hectares in Wexford.” (In a bit of symmetry, Wexford has some Powers family history; Edermine House, the ancestral home of the Powers family, is nearby.)

Another reason rye disappeared in Ireland? Rye grain was traditionally used to construct thatch roofs, but when housing was modernized, rye was no longer needed. 

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Now, a bit of brand history: Powers originally launched all the way back in 1791. In 1966, when the Irish whiskey industry was in disarray, John Power & Son merged with Jon Jameson & Son and Cork Distilleries Company to create Irish Distillers; production soon shifted from Dublin to Midleton. Irish Distillers is now a part of Pernod Ricard. 

That’s a lot of history. And once Ryan and his team started digging through the archives, they noticed that rye had indeed been a part of the company’s 200+ year whiskey journey. “Historically, you could have rye, wheat, oats or barley in your Irish whiskey mashbill,” he says. “What we use at Powers is just malted barley and unmalted barley, that’s the pot still recipe. But our archivist found there was a sprinkling of rye and wheat back in the 1800s.”

Still, Powers Irish Rye represents a departure for the brand, as well as the larger Irish whiskey category. To create the new expression, Powers doubled the fermentation time and put the liquid through a column still, in lieu of the traditional pot still that Powers is known for. “That’s an easier way to target a specific flavor,” says Ryan. “And that extended fermentation gets you more fruity esters.”

It also goes through a unique maturation process, with the distillery utilizing four different types of American oak (virgin oak, first-fill bourbon and refills) for just under five years, another differentiation from the larger Powers portfolio.

But the result surprisingly fits in with everything Powers has been doing for two-plus centuries.  Powers Irish Rye is triple distilled and non-chill filtered, coming in at 43.2% ABV. Overall, it’s an incredibly balanced yet surprisingly not-that-spicy rye; it has a sweetness and earthiness on the nose, while you’ll find a complexity on the palate, with notes of cinnamon, cloves, fruit, orange peel, vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, banana and cherry. 

Even with the differences in grain and distilling, “I find some of those notes here in other Powers whiskeys,” says Ryan. “And it maintains the mouthfeel of Irish whiskey.” (And it’s only $32, which is an outstanding price for something that works well neat, on the rocks and in a wide variety of cocktails.)

So, sexy? Sure. But Ryan ends our conversation with a better description, which better places the new Powers bottle firmly in the world of Irish whiskey. “It’s fairly nuanced.”

How should you drink this? Since we had a few Manhattans with the new Powers Irish rye, we suggest you start there. The brand calls the following recipe “The Irish Built Manhattan,” which pays “a loving homage to the Irish workers that helped physically build today’s soaring metropolis.”

Powers Irish Rye and a Powers Manhattan
A Powers Irish Rye take on a Manhattan
Irish Distillers

The Irish Built Manhattan

Prep Time: 2 mins

Servings: 1

Ingredients
  • 1 part Powers Irish Rye
  • 1 part Hotel Starlino Vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon marasca syrup
Directions
    1. Add whiskey, vermouth and marasca syrup into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled.

    2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

    3. Garnish with Hotel Starlino Maraschino Cherries.

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