Kip Waide doesn’t remember exactly when it started or who was responsible for starting it. But a two-fisted drinker’s tradition was born the second somebody at the Southwark bar clicked a couple Powers whiskey caps onto each other and realized they stuck nice and snug.
Like any intrepid alcohol disseminator who discovers something fun to do with discarded booze packaging, Waide, who opened Southwark with wife Sheri in 2004, began testing how far he could push it. Every time he or one of his bartenders reached the bottom of a bottle of Powers, distilled in Ireland since 1791, they screwed a cap, Notre Dame gold and embossed with founder John Power’s John Hancock, onto the collection.
Nearly 10 years and 800-something spent bottles later, Southwark is stocked with dozens of what are informally referred to as “Towers of Powers.” Taller than the average toddler, these stacks slightly resemble reeds of bamboo from afar. But once you grab one up close, suppress the urge to thwack someone in the shin with it and hold it up to your ear, you can hear the craic of boozing sessions past like a conch shell lets you hear the motion of the ocean.*
Sadly, these Powers Towers, squirreled away on top of a mirror on the service side of the bar, and now relegated to museum status, by no fault of Southwark’s.
Over the summer, Irish Distillers, the Pernod Ricard subsidiary that also produces Irish whiskeys like Paddy’s and Jameson, changed everything about Powers Gold Label, their flagship, entry-level product. (The name derives from the Power’s early color system to delineate the product — white labels for wholesalers, gold for individual retail bottles.) For starters, the liquid’s different: No longer chill-filtered, it’s been bumped to 86.4 proof (43.2 percent alcohol) from the long-standing 80. It’s more expensive, close to $30 a bottle. The packaging’s been tweaked, too — smaller label, sleeker bottle shape and (sigh) stopper instead of screw-top.
Waide, who jokes that he’s considered shipping every single one of his old Powers caps to the Emerald Isle in silent protest, doesn’t understand why a recipe that’s been loved and glugged since the 18th century suddenly requires augmentation. “I didn’t buy it for the allure of aging or high-proofing,” he says. “It was just the cheap working man’s shot. It’s now more expensive than Jameson.”
The Southwark staff has no immediate plans for their now-souvenir caps — they’re still resting on top of that mirror, and the bar will gladly fix you a shot of the “new” Powers on request. Stop by on Sunday, as the restaurant is now open for dinner that night, and keep it holy with a shot. Just make sure to raise a wee glass to those lofty Towers of Powers, made relics by the unrestrainable passage of drunk time.
* This only works after two to four shots of Powers.