What’s not to like? A brand that emphasises the importance of transparency, bottles whiskies at 65% ABV, and is determined to contemporise Irish distilling history. Those familiar with my articles will appreciate that I’m talking about Two Stacks whiskey and am revisiting the brand once again to examine the Tawny Port Cask Strength finish.
In December, I recently reviewed Two Stacks’ Apricot Brandy cask finish and brought to light their refreshing take on Irish whiskey. Rather than reiterating the Two Stacks story, I will focus this article on the Port finish, and why Port remains such a highly regarded and sought-after whiskey finish.
Port, a fortified wine produced in the Douro, became popular in the UK in the 18th century. War with France put an arrête to the consumption of French wine, requiring an alternative. The region of Douro is unique, too; it is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary (established in 1730) and Chianti (1716). Therefore, there’s a certain nostalgia with the area, one that a whiskey maker might want to associate themselves with.
The actual wine itself is fortified by adding a neutral grape spirit known as “aguardente,” which stops fermentation, leaving the residual sugar in the wine, gracefully boosting the alcohol content. There are various types of Port, however, the ageing in Tawny Port is probably a wise move. Tawny Port is known as the whiskey of the Port world; just like whiskey, much of the flavour comes from ageing in wooden casks. This exposes the wine to gradual oxidation and evaporation due to its long maturation in wooden casks, as opposed to Ruby Port.
This process also has a significant influence on subsequent whiskies, which may be aged in the barrels, as it will allow the whiskey to develop “nutty” flavours, sweetness, and ultimately a heck of a lot of complexity. It’s also lighter than Ruby Port, which means it’s not too heavy; as a result, the whiskey is not at risk of overdeveloping and becoming cask dominant.
This particular whiskey was aged in a French oak barrel that held a Vintage Tawny Port. Some may see the name as a bit of a misnomer. I am by no means a Port expert, however Vintage and Tawny ports are typically two separate categories. You can, however, have a Vintage Tawny Port. These can hail from a single-year vintage, too; for example Colheita, which is Tawny Port from a single vintage. The origin of this specific Port is not stated on the bottle.
I’m taking off my Port hat now and replacing my whiskey hat firmly. This whiskey is cut from the same cloth as the apricot brandy finish. It’s a combination of 40% dark grain aged in virgin oak casks, 40% light grain aged in bourbon casks, 8% pot still aged in Oloroso Sherry Butts, 10% double malt aged in bourbon casks ,and 2% peated malt also aged in bourbon casks. In all, it’s called “The Blender’s Cut.”
This bottle, which is sold out on their website, is typically only available for purchase on auction websites. An outturn of 222 bottles has certainly made this limited, but one for opening. Two Stacks don’t do things by half measure; they’ve released this bottle at 63.5% ABV, which might encourage a drop of water or two to make it a much more manageable experience for the whiskey newbies out there. I will, however, refrain and drink it in all of its cask strength glory.
The bottle originally retailed at €89, which somewhat is steep. However, look at it objectively: It’s Irish (tick), it’s limited (tick), premium finish (debatable?), it’s cask strength (tick) which ultimately equates to a heftier price tag. For the purists out there, it’s non-chill-filtered with no added colouring, something Two Stacks take pleasure in advocating.
Two Stacks Blender’s Cut Tawny Port Cask Strength – Review
On the nose: A healthy fruity burst of clementine oranges, pink grapefruits, and pink lady apples stir the senses. However, the sweetshop sweetness cuts through splendidly too, with Haribo Tangfastics and fizzy cherries giving it a serious kick with rich toffee adding some balance and variety to the proceedings. There are also some boozy raisins and figs that come through, giving this quite the variety of notes.
In the mouth: Where to start? Initially, there’s a real richness of notes, quite challenging to differentiate. Very fizzy cherry coke, kiwi and pink ladies generate a zesty, sugary nirvana that turns to spearmint and relatively quickly to peppermint. It is quite desert-like; it reminds me of a spicy rhubarb crumble, dark chocolate cherry gateau, or even Terry’s chocolate orange, such range has this palate.
It’s certainly not overpowering, especially given the ABV, but there is a balance. Even the small contingent of peated malt is able to cut through all of the sweetness and steady this collection of very dominant flavours. The smoke is very subtle but recognisable towards the end, a clever tactic from some clever blenders.
On the finish, a lot of warmth, not too overpowering at all. There’s a helping of black pepper and clove, less of the fruit, which is disappointing, but the length carries on abundantly given the nature of the ABV.
Tawny Port finishes are becoming more and more common; however, the ability to do them well is less so. Two Stacks have delivered on it here. The influence of the Port on the whiskey comes through so comfortingly, mainly in the nose and palate. The palate is a real miscellany of notes, but skilfully brought together by the smoke towards the end. There’s serious depth and range, with different dimensions; herbal, sweet, and spice battle it out for dominance.
As I drink this whiskey, I am coincidently trying it side by side with a 10-year-old Tawny Port, also aged in oak casks. It’s M&S, so by no means special, but a taste of a similar product that occupied Two Stacks’ cask before disgorging. In some ways, I find the whiskey similar on the finish. The Tawny Port is beautifully fruity and fragrant. Still, I find it slightly lacking in its finish, almost flat like, which is quite characteristic of the whiskey. There’s less influence in the finish, but the nose and palate are practically flawless.
I want to refrain from adding to my already inherent bias towards Irish whiskey, but Two Stacks are trailblazing. Their values, principles, and pioneerism are facets that shouldn’t be overlooked. New Irish whiskey distillers and bonders are bursting onto the scene exponentially, but none at quite the rate or aptitude of Two Stacks.