Whiskey circles can be strange. You have a couple of different dynamics within them. You have those who decide on one or two brands and snub the rest. Some who snub other drinkers because of their thoughts on different brands or how they drink or even where they come from! Some who see themselves as the epitome of expertise while truly knowing very little. Those who just love the craic, history and taste of the spirit and the meek newcomers who are dipping their toe into the whiskey scene. Then the final ranking are the true legends, the quiet experts and the protectors of the tradition who are only in it to drive the industry forward. I am very lucky to have several of the latter as friends. People I can go to and ask questions of because, after all, I’m no expert. I place myself in the craic, history and taste category and far below those I hold in revere. The beauty of knowing these people is they wish to share the knowledge and more importantly, the liquid itself. Recently one of these people gave me some samples. 3 different Redbreast years and 2 Tullamore DEW years, 1970 and 1980. This is what makes the whiskey community awesome for me. No pre- arrangement, no asking for a sample, he just appeared at a whiskey tasting and handed me a lunch box full of them. While looking though these treasures I pulled out the 70s and 80s Tully…..”Try the 70s one, try it!” was the exclamation of sheer delight and excitement. So there I was, in a bar in Cork taking a swig out of a sample bottle. And I wasn’t disappointed. At first I thought he was pulling my leg. “This is a Powers, no doubt” was my response. No way was this Tullamore DEW I had thought, but sure enough, it was. And so, my little journey of research and comparison started!
Tullamore Dew is pretty much a household name in the world of Whiskey these days. The name DEW itself comes from the initials of Daniel E. Williams who was the General Manager of the original distillery and subsequently an owner of the original distillery in later years. In 2007 they replaced Bushmills as the second most popular Irish whiskey after Jameson. But, it had a bit of a turbulent past since its foundation in 1829. As with most distilleries, it fell into a decaying market post prohibition, the aftermath of two world wars and the rise of blended scotch whisky. In the early 50’s the company turned its attention away from Tullamore DEW Whiskey and towards “Irish Mist” Liqueur which was rising in popularity and, in the late 50’s/early 60’s, this lead to the still fires being extinguished in the distillery. In turn, this allowed the distillery to age and become in need of vast repair and rejuvenation. When stocks of spirit were once again needed for the Irish Mist brand, it was then cheaper for the Williams family, who then owned the Tullamore Distillery, to make a deal with John Power and Son. The deal was simple. The rights to Tullamore DEW were handed over to Powers in return for spirit to keep Irish Mist going. So where am I going with this little history lesson? That 70’s sample I tried was the essence of a Powers pot still whiskey. And that, quite simply, was how it came about. The stock was Powers. The brand was owned by Powers. And in a small way of making it their own, the two bottles actually has “Est. 1791” on the label. This was the year that the Johns Lane distillery was founded. And what about the 80’s sample you ask? Well that is quite different and its due to another change happening. In 1966, Cork Distilleries Company, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son merged to form Irish Distillers Limited (although they were known as the United Distillers of Ireland for a short period of time). While Powers continued to distill at their Johns Lane Distillery in the early 70’s, production then moved to the New Midleton Distillery complex in 1975. The 1980’s sample is by far a different whiskey owing to changes within the IDL group when Kevin McCourt took over running the company in 1968, namely his insistence on blends and the subsequent move to the new distillery complex in Midleton. Tullamore DEW continued to be passed from IDL to C&C in 1994, and then onto William Grant & Sons in 2010 where it rests today with a massive rejuvenation of a new Distillery and huge marketing push. That’s a story for another day when we review current forms of the Tully blend. So onto my tasting notes;
Tullamore DEW 1970
Blend – I’m lead to believe this was an 80% heavy pot still with 20% grain.
Nose – Funny nose here. Nothing the first time and then a musty caramel wave. Can’t really get much more to be honest.
Palate – Pot still spice in there. Caramel and there’s that musty taste creeping in (that isn’t a bad thing by the way!). Slight oxidisation I think, which may be stripping back some of the palate.
Finish – Medium/short finish that leaves a pleasant warmth in the mouth if only for a short time. I’m sure there is a sulphur note in there somewhere……might be wrong though!
Tullamore DEW 1980s
Blend – Believed to be 80% Grain whiskey with 20% medium/light pot still
Nose – Vanilla, caramel and a floral note.
Palate – Oilier mouth feel than the 70’s which was a surprise. Green apples, a little orange zest, vanilla and a touch of liquorice.
Finish – Medium finish with those apples coming to the fore here.
Overall – The overall impression is a hard one to call for me. My tasting notes aren’t really up to what they should be for this, but that’s what I got when I tried both. The 80s is obviously closer to present day blended whiskeys that we may see, but the 70’s is going back to before the true loss of traditional pure pot still. There is a high portion of PPS in this blend, about 80% heavy pot still I’m told, which makes it a little touch of Irish distilling history. It’s no 1960s Powers as described in the book “A glass apart”, but it has something to it. To sum up, the 1980s is an easier drinker due to the higher portion of grain whiskey in the blend but the 70’s offers so much more for the not so average whiskey explorer. A big thanks to the “Gandalf”, AKA “the Oracle” for giving me the chance to sample these pieces of history!