In 2021, world-renowned Master Distiller Brian Nation left Ireland’s biggest distillery and followed a dream to balmy Minneapolis. Naturally, this was met with near-universal surprise and curiosity.
With whiskey legends like Jameson, Redbreast and Midleton under his belt, what could compel a professional at the top of his game to leave one of the most envied positions in distilling—aside from the Twin Cities’ famously warmer, sunnier climate? For Brian, the answer was simple, “It’s an adventure.” But it was also a chance to build something literally from the ground up, starting with the distillery and culminating in the bottles of Keeper’s Heart gracing whiskey fans’ shelves around the world.
Exploring an Ocean of Possibilities between Ireland and the USA
Beyond the opportunity to uproot his family and move their lives across the Atlantic, Brian saw tremendous promise in the vision shared between cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy. The O’Shaughnessy cousins wanted to create singular whiskeys that blended Irish and American distilling traditions, as well as the moments best suited to sharing a bottle with the family and friends who matter most. Naturally, Brian was all in.
Assembling an Award-Winning Team
With Brian on board, one of his first orders of business was to collaborate with an expert American whiskey maker. Fortunately it was an easy search, as he’d previously befriended David Perkins—the founder of High West Distillery. This proved to be a wise choice for everyone involved, as Keeper’s Heart is now the most awarded new whiskey of 2022 with many notable wins, including International Wine and Spirits Challenge Platinum, Beverage Tasting Institute ‘Best Whiskey in a Highball’ Platinum, Ultimate Spirits Challenge 94, and San Francisco World Spirits Competition Gold.
With an inaugural Irish + American release that blended Irish grain and pot still whiskeys with American rye, Keeper’s Heart’s truly unique offering introduced the brand to the whiskey world in 2021. While this release was unprecedented, there has been considerable overlap between the histories of American and Irish whiskeys. American whiskey arose largely from the Irish distilling traditions, eventually trading rye for corn as immigrants settled farther west.
A century later, ex-bourbon barrels would make the long trip back across the Atlantic to return the flavor during the Irish whiskey aging process. While Irish whiskey is aged in used barrels, bourbon is legally required to be aged in new, charred oak casks and barrels. So it’s an elegant solution to the question, “What are we going to do with all these used bourbon barrels?” But as distinct and different as these whiskeys are, there have been generations of overlap. The biggest surprise to Brian and the O’Shaughnessys was that no one has had the good sense to explore this shared DNA in any meaningful way in recent times. The rich smoothness of Irish whiskeys coupled with the bold character of American bourbons and ryes truly represents an undiscovered country for spirits.
What if Bourbon Had an Irish Accent?
It occurred to us that a great many Americans are just a little bit Irish, and the better for it. What if the same were true of American bourbon? Irish + Bourbon is Keeper’s Heart’s second permanent release and is an exceptional blend of Irish grain and pot still whiskeys with bourbon. With notes of butterscotch sweetness mingling with the bourbon barrels’ freshly charred virgin oak, this blend truly offers a singularly unique and delicious whiskey.
Brian Nation explains, “I really think that Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon is going to be a real hit here, because we’ve got a lot of bourbon whiskey drinkers, and this release possesses great bourbon whiskey character, but with the enhancement of the Irish whiskey, it really does give it a unique taste profile that people definitely enjoy. As we’ve said before, this extra dimension gives us the best of both worlds.”
Whiskey Worth Sharing
National Bourbon Heritage Month is just 30 fleeting days, but we appreciate the world’s great whiskeys every day of the year. For us, whiskey is rooted in appreciation—the liquid, the people, the stories and the traditions. Whiskey lets people truly drink in life’s best moments with the family and friends who share them. We genuinely hope you’ll raise a glass of Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon this National Bourbon Heritage Month and broaden your whiskey horizons. Sláinte!