It seems that there’s a new distillery popping up with an innovative exclusive every week, attempting to revive Irish whiskey. This is fantastic for the island of Ireland; it is a testament to the rejuvenated distillers wanting to make a name for themselves in an increasingly crowded market where the competition is rife.
Newcomer Two Stacks is another belligerent confident enough to raise its head above the parapet. Two Stacks’ conformity to Irish distilling heritage and independent blending and bottling make them diverse enough to succeed without pedigree or history.
Two Stacks have concentrated on the “age-old tradition” of independently blending and bottling, a “dying art” (as they describe it), but also becoming more common in an ever-expanding market. Blenders such as JJ Corry have shown what sort of success blends can have, if skilfully done. The art of “bonding” goes back beyond the 18th century, when Irish distillers did not bottle and sell their own liquid. They ultimately sold the cask onwards to the public, who became known as bonders. Some of the best bonders – Mitchell and Sons and Gilbeys – have undoubtedly set the foundations of the best Irish whiskey produced today, the Spots and Redbreast, respectively.
What makes Two Stacks different is their contemporary flair. Two Stacks is run by Shane McCarthy and Liam Brogan, neither of whom have a history in distilling, but bring a passion and a knack for creating some of the most modern and innovative finishes (of which I will review just one). As they say, good things come in threes; head distiller Brendan Carty (who needs no introduction) makes up the trio of Musketeers.
After setting up Ireland Craft Beverages, their enduring itch to produce as well as distribute was finally scratched, and the Two Stacks franchise was finally announced. Without having the insurance of reviving a ‘big brand’ and putting their spin on it, Two Stacks wanted to put their own stamp on the market.
Their initial releases – First Cut and Blender’s Cut – were grain whiskey made up of a pioneering blend 40% dark grain, 40% light, 10% double malt, 8% pot still whiskey, and 2% peated malt. The Blender’s cut was bottled at 64%.
These releases have been very popular. Two Stacks’ “Dram in a Can” product – featuring a 43% five-part blend in a 100ml can – has already provided accessibility and convenience to whiskey drinkers in a way they never thought possible. It is even being sold in the shopping complex in the ultra-modern Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, which handles upwards of 30 million passengers from around the world every year. Two Stacks has certainly made its reputation known.
As part of Belfast Whiskey Week (BWW), I was fortunate enough to try the samples within the bonus box, which included a 5cl sample of the Apricot Brandy Cask. This whiskey has adopted the same complex blend from their initial release (Virgin Oak Grain, Ex-Bourbon Grain, Ex-Oloroso Pot Still, Ex-Bourbon Double Distilled Malt, and Ex-Bourbon Peated Malt). The finish was then provided by a 59-day sojourn in a French Oak Cask that previously held an Apricot Brandy. The outlay of 222 bottles was bottled at a mouth-watering 63.7%. The whiskey is non-chill filtered and has no added colouring. Price on release was circa £88, with bottles being hard to find now. On last check, there was some on Celtic Whiskey Shop.
Two Stacks Blenders Cut Apricot Brandy Cask Strength – Review
Colour: Deep copper.
On the nose: A complete fruit-fest on the nose. Aromas of peeling a clementine orange, fresh marmalade, lots of evident apricot influence. Then there’s an unusual sweetness with Parma Violets, fruit salad sweets and honey, giving this a very distinctive nose full of vibrancy.
In the mouth: A second dose of oranges, but this time it’s more tangerines with fresh baked poached pears drizzled in cinnamon sugar. Lovely texture and mouthfeel. Lots of nut flavours coming through too, with almonds being most distinct. The 2% of peat makes it quite hard to find, and it’s quite inconspicuous. The finish is clearly helped by the ABV, which is not overpowering at all but adds a delicate level of warmth coupled with some more gentle sweetness of toffee which comes through gradually.
This is a really delightful dram! I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a whiskey finished in an apricot brandy cask before, and therefore it makes me appreciate this modern adaptation. The sweetness that comes through at every stage isn’t one dimensional. The nose is full of fruity sweetness, balanced with a sweet shop twist. Then the palate is the nose and more! Lots of sweetness again, but this time the little spice and nuttiness give it a real edge, especially with the ABV. And the finish… well, it’s just so delicate with plenty of warmth. Delightful.
My first foray into Two Stacks’ range will certainly not be my last. What impresses me most is Shane and Liam’s desire not to sit on their laurels. Their other finishes have included tawny port, a Sauternes cask, peated stout and Barbados rum, an eclectic mix for a pioneering team. My hope for this brand is that they carry on what they are doing. Don’t be side-tracked by Irish whiskey’s now reputational high pricing (this bottle would have been on the higher side of what I would have hoped to pay for it) and focus on the consumer… which it feels like they are, with transparency, good value, and quality whiskey bonding at heart.
Lead image courtesy of Celtic Whiskey Shop.