Blended Irish whiskey is not a category from which spirits geeks tend to expect a lot. Irish single malts or Irish single pot still whiskeys, sure. But the ubiquitous blended whiskeys, made with a combination of malt and grain whiskey, and typically aged for scant periods, is often the kind of stuff you associate with college bars and non-fussy mixed drinks. Think Jameson, Tullamore Dew, etc.
It’s interesting, then, to see a brand approach blended Irish whiskey from a significantly different conceptual direction, as new brand Two Stacks does. A product of Irish drinks importer/distributor Ireland Craft Beverage, Two Stacks is an unusually complex flagship blend, made from five styles of Irish whiskey sourced from throughout the island. As such, Two Stacks is in industry parlance a non-distiller producer (NDP) that styles its product as a return to traditional Irish blending that would have been carried out by people like merchants, grocers and bonders creating their own blends.
Of course, as this product hits the shelves in the U.S. (in terms of St. Patrick’s Day, naturally), what you’re more likely to be hearing about is the fact that it’s IRISH WHISKEY IN A CAN, BOYO! Yes indeed, Two Stacks is releasing this flagship whiskey of theirs in the form of 100 ml cans, sold in a four-pack, at an MSRP of about $19—the equivalent of around $35 per standard 750 ml bottle. The whiskey is also being sold in those traditional bottles, but expect the marketing blitz to play up the unusual aspect of the tiny can.
To which we can only really shrug. This is clearly a marketing gimmick, but not one that should impact our assessment of the whiskey. It is kind of amusing seeing the specificity of their language, claiming Two Stacks as “the world’s first 43% ABV whiskey in a can,” implying in the process that there are other, presumably 40% ABV whiskeys in cans. Does the “Dram in a Can” provide any other particular benefit? Well, they are quite small and portable, we’ll give them that. You can easily pop one in a pocket on your way to a baseball game or wedding. It doesn’t seem to do the whiskey any harm. And at 3.38 fl oz per can, each one is equal to a little bit more than two shots. It’s a fairly reasonable, convenient little package.
Enough about the can, though. Let’s talk about the actual whiskey.
The blend here is of particular interest, combining both pot still and column still spirits with multiple types of grain bills and cask finishes. The full makeup is as follows:
— 40% “light grain” whiskey aged in bourbon casks
— 40% “dark grain” whiskey aged in virgin oak (newly charred)
— 8% pot still malt whiskey aged in oloroso sherry butts
— 10% double distilled malt whiskey aged in bourbon casks
— 2% peated malt whiskey aged in bourbon casks
There’s a little marketing nonsense in here—I’m genuinely not sure what “light grain” and “dark grain” is supposed to mean, and “double distilled” is only a feature to those who don’t know that it technically implies “lighter and less characterful”—but it’s still an interesting combination nevertheless. The small portion of sherried single malt is obviously intended to add significant richness and fruitiness, while the finishing touch of peated whiskey is the X-factor. The significant use of virgin oak also points to an unusually characterful whiskey for the style. The whole thing is non-chill filtered and bottled (or canned) at 43% ABV (86 proof), giving it a slightly more characterful proof point than most of the baseline Irish blends on the shelf. Two Stacks is clearly making a play at offering a more complex, everyday Irish blend.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting. Although I’m fully sure that advertisements will no doubt show people drinking directly from the cans, I’ll instead give this the benefit of pouring it into a proper tasting glass.
On the nose, Two Stacks nicely shows off its range of influences. Honey and butterscotch lead the way, into abundant fruits (orange essence, orchard fruits) and more of a candied almond/marzipan sweetness that hints at the presence of the sherry casks. All things considered, it’s actually pretty assertive on the nose, surprisingly rich and sherry forward for the relatively small percentage it makes up of the blend. I get a bit of raw ethanol on the nose here as well, perhaps point to the young ages of some of the whiskeys in the blend, but it’s only a minor detraction. The end result on the nose is pulling in a few directions at once, but I find myself enjoying it all the same.
On the palate, there’s also a decent degree of complexity at play here. Considerably sweetness and richness from the oloroso is present on the front end, with flavors of roasted nuts and rum raisin, along with slight molasses, orchard fruit, citrus and vanilla. The surprising element is how nicely things are then rounded out by subtle notes of earth and peat—not quite “smoke,” per se—that give Two Stacks a bit more balance than you expect in some roundly sweet, fruity Irish whiskeys. That touch of peated malt whiskey was a smart decision when it comes to the final presentation of this blend.
Ultimately, the vessel and marketing of Two Stacks are both a bit dependent upon gimmick, but at least the liquid within the tiny cans is legitimate. One can tell that thought and care went into crafting this blend. The next time you’re sneaking booze into a public sports event, this could be your best friend.
Blender: Two Stacks Irish Whiskey
Style: Blended Irish whiskey
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 100 ml cans, $19 MSRP and 750 ml bottles
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.