Whiskey and coffee – two of the finest things in life brought together.
Whilst working in the drinks industry I quickly learned that there is a close connection between whiskey and coffee which goes even further than one of the world’s favourite cocktails. Both are rich, complex drinks with colourful histories. Both have huge followings. Both require time, skill and craft to create and serve perfectly.
For these reasons Powers has always been a perfect partner with coffee and last year we teamed up with our neighbours – Bailies Coffee Roasters. Bailies were clearly as passionate about coffee as we are about whiskey and we have worked closely with them to plan events across Northern Ireland.
I think one of the biggest similarities between whiskey and coffee is the type of person who drinks them. Of course, there are still plenty of people who drink cheap, run of the mill whiskey and cheap petrol station coffee (occasionally me) but times have changed in Northern Ireland. For the most part people are now willing to pay a little more, for a lot better. Whether it’s paying an extra £1 or £2 for a freshly roasted, perfectly served coffee or paying a few pounds more for beautiful, single pot still Irish whiskey.
More important than cost however, is knowledge. People want to know everything about what they’re drinking. Where is my coffee from? Who roasted it? Steamed milk or foam?
The same can be said for whiskey. Where is it from? What type of casks was it matured in? How old is it? I love to include a bit of education at these events. My ideal outcome is for people to leave with a bit of a better understanding and a better appreciation of Irish whiskey (and coffee).
Our most recent event took us to Haptik in Newtownards. Haptik is a Melbourne influenced coffee shop, café and contemporary art space run by husband and wife Jonny and Rachael McBride. The owner’s passion for coffee reminded us of our passion for whiskey, so a perfect fit for us.
At the event in Haptik guests learnt about the skills that goes into producing Powers Irish Whiskey covering raw ingredients, brewing, distillation and maturation. We began the whiskey tasting with a true classic and one of the world’s favourite Irish whiskeys – Powers Gold Label. A triple distilled blend of mostly pot still whiskey and some fine grain whiskey, both aged entirely in American oak casks. The whiskey carries delicate honeyed character with rich orchard fruits and the classic pot still spice the brand is known for.
We then moved onto our first single pot still – Powers Three Swallow Release. Made entirely of pot still whiskey and matured mostly in American oak but with a small amount of oloroso sherry casks used as well. This whiskey is bursting with fruit leaning more towards the tropical end with citrus and banana married with more rounded marzipan and toasted oak.
Dinner was a delicious soft-shell taco with slow cooked beef and a Powers whiskey sauce. I was delighted to hear there was one for me too. Whilst the food was being plated we enjoyed a quick coffee tasting and chat from Patrick, one of the baristas at Haptik. We tasted two versions of the same coffee. One washed and one unwashed. This really drove home the importance of process when it comes to flavour, whether with whiskey or coffee.
After a nice dose of caffeine, we were ready for our final two whiskeys. Number 3 was Powers Signature Release. The newest Powers whiskey to be released in Northern Ireland, this single pot still celebrates the signature distillate style Powers is known for. Rich and spicy with plenty of black peppercorns, berry fruit and a touch of liquorice. A jump up in terms of weight from Three Swallow Release but still not as rich as our final whiskey.
Powers John’s Lane Release plays homage to the birthplace of Powers. Named after the old John’s Lane Distillery this whiskey celebrates the heavy pot style whiskey that Dublin and Powers was known for. Aged for at least 12 years this whiskey is thick and almost waxy in texture which notes of freshly roasted coffee, dark chocolate and leather with a note of earthiness about it. A firm favourite amongst Irish whiskey aficionados and one of my all-time favourites.
The whole evening finished with a celebration of the best known connection between Irish whiskey and coffee – the Irish Coffee. Made with beautiful Bailies espresso coffee, Powers Gold Label and lightly whipped fresh cream (infused with more coffee!) these final drinks brought about a decadent end to a great evening.
Words by Joe Magowan.