Two Stacks 'Pillars of Creation'


Blends! The very word can send a chill feeling down through your spine. Yet if it weren't for blends and the art of blending the whiskey industry here in Ireland and the UK might be a very different place, in fact Ireland may not have a whiskey industry at all if it weren't for Irish Distillers decision to solely focus on blends in the late 1960's.

So why do we overlook blends when they have held, and still do hold such an important place within the whiskey industry business model?

For starters a lot of cheap blended whiskies, both Scotch and Irish tend to be not so great. Usually they are heavy on youthful grain with just a smidgen of malt or in the case of Irish whiskey, pot still as well. Even then the malt/pot still element can also be on the youthful side, maybe no more than 5 years old. This can lead to very spirit driven whiskies that are immature and as such a little harsh with lots of acetone like notes. 

Modern Scotch blends such as Johnnie Walker Red label, Famous Grouse, Whyte & Mackay and Bell's would very likely to be enough to put you off whisky for life, baring very little resemblance to their forbears in the 1960's and 70's (I've been meaning to review Famous Grouse now for a while but I honestly can't bring myself to drink it).

Irish blends fare little better as you'll know if you've followed me for any length of time. Drams like the Lir Green Crest, Proper Twelve, Red Earl & Stablemate to name just a few were either poorly thought out, executed or both. Devoid of flavour or character these were not enjoyable experiences.

Thankfully though I have had some great experiences with blends showcasing that when well thought out and constructed they really can be things of beauty. The Tweeddale The Evolution from R&B distillers is one that stood out as epic. Also really good have been the Bushmills 1608 and the Jameson Black Barrel Cask Strength.

On top of these in the Irish context you can find good blends from Copeland, Hinch, McConnells, Micil and The Silkie to name just a few. 

Now most of these blends outside of Bushmills, Jameson & Powers are all sourced products either from Bushmills or Midleton, or more likely Great Northern and West Cork. So there really hasn't been much variation in liquid style to choose from in Ireland over recent years. 

In an effort to further differentiate themselves in this crowded market, Two Stacks have released a new blend featuring single malt and single pot still from three of Ireland's independently owned distilleries. Rather than aim for the generic 'smooth and light' style of blend that is a bit of a blight on the Irish whiskey reputation (in my mind at least), the lads at Two stacks were looking to create something a bit more 'sub-sub-sub-substantial' to quote Michael Stipe.

As Donal, Liam and Shane put it, "The main purpose of this release was never about maintaining the status quo; it was about starting a new chapter to script where Irish Whiskey can go... Old meets new, tradition meeting innovation." Thus we have the 'Pillars of Creation' release.

To achieve this the lads have married three spirits from Dingle, Echlinville and Killowen Distilleries. Dingle, being the oldest independently owned distillery in Ireland have their own unique style going on and their core range malt is a great alternative to the Bushmills & Cooley malts out there. Killowen is probably my favourite distillery in Ireland and their own liquid has really been something special, so much so it has a Kult following. 

Of the three Echlinville is probably the outlier. It has been quietly going about it's business on the Ards Peninsula for a decade now and has yet to release it's own liquid. That is all about to change soon, but having tasted their new make it was guarantee enough something special was happening there.

So what are the 'Pillars of Creation' then? First we have Dingle cask #261 filled in November 2013 with single malt and matured in a first fill ex-bourbon cask. Second is Echlinville's cask #450. A first fill ex-bourbon cask filled in August 2016 with single pot still. Finally we have Killowen's cask #4. A refill quarter cask again filled with single pot still spirit.

So that's 10 year old Dingle single malt, 8 year old Echlinville pot still and 4 year old Killowen pot still. These were then married in a Cream Sherry butt that consisted of amontillado, oloroso and px sherries. The marrying period was around 2 and half years. This then will be a one off whiskey, never to be repeated. 

It was bottled at 56% abv, is of course in the Two Stacks way, non chill filtered and natural colour. A bottle costs £115 or the 100ml 'Dram in a can' is available for £17.50. There are only 300 bottles and 500 cans so best be quick when purchasing (update: only the bottles are left at time of writing). This will also be an annual release, so it will be exciting to follow it's progression

Let's taste!

'Pillars of Creation' 56% abv

Nose: The Dingle is apparent on the nose lending saltiness & a herbal character. Woody spice notes of anise, clove and black peppercorns. Whipped cream, butterscotch, mocha and leather. Raisins and marzipan. Citrus peels, digestive biscuits and fresh wood shavings. Water brings out a milky coffee note, stone fruit and gorse.

Palate: Great viscosity. Plenty or Werther's Originals on arrival. Apple and blackberry strudel, vanilla cheesecake with a thick biscuit base. Toasted almonds and hazelnuts plus sweet raisins and orange zest. A pleasing peppery note arrives mid palate along with aniseed balls, black liquorice and cacao nibs. With water the texture remains great. Now we get ginger, honey & copper.

Finish: Medium length with a nice interplay between creamy sherried sweetness, peppery pot still spice and a little herbal quality.

Score: 7 out of 10

Overall: Irish whiskey blending turns a new page. This isn't contract distilling and blending to fit a brand profile or demographic. Nor indeed is it a continuation of the 'Irish whiskey is smooooootttthhhhh' rhetoric. This really is looking backwards to the art of bonding and blending but using the new kids on the Irish block to achieve something of character.

This is approachable, but it has body, bite and a very good depth. I suppose that shouldn't come as a surprise looking at the raw materials. Even better is that the sherry cask doesn't dominate proceedings but rather corrals the three distillates into, simply put, something rather delicious. The Two Stacks lads have done very well with this one, very well indeed. If it wasn't £110 I think I'd have scored an 8, although considering it's constituent parts I understand the price point is probably quite competitive. But even at that price there is much to enjoy here and I look forward to seeing how the 'Pillars of Creation' series unfolds over time. I'd wager this won't be available for long.

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