What the heck is Irish-American whiskey, and why is it being made in Minnesota, a state that’s historically been home to folks of Scandinavian descent? Well, Minneapolis is also home to the O’Shaughnessy family, and it’s where cousins Michael and Patrick O’Shaughnessy, along with Patrick’s wife Kelly, built the gorgeous, state-of-the-art, no-expense-spared O’Shaughnessy Distilling Company. The goal: to make whiskey that would, in their words, “celebrate the spirit of family, support our community and leave a meaningful legacy for generations to come.” They weren’t messing around, either. While the distillery was still being built, they convinced Brian Nation — the longtime master distiller of iconic Irish whiskeys as Jameson, Redbreast and Powers — to not only jump ship, but jump continents to join the grand experiment. Nation helped design the place, and of course the stills on which he would work. Fellow whiskey legend David Perkins, the founder of High West, was brought on as “Liquid Collaborator & Advisor,” and an important American component in the Irish-American equation.
Keeper’s Heart is planned to be a hybrid with elements of both Irish and American styles, using traditional single pot still distillation. With Nation and Perkins overseeing things, whatever they do promises to be worth our while. But while the O’Shaughnessy distillery gets up to speed and the the Nation-distilled whiskey ages, he and the team have started blending and releasing sourced product, hailing from both Ireland and America, under the Keeper’s Heart moniker.
The first bottles hit shelves last year. The flagship 86-proof Irish + American expression is a combo of Irish pot still and grain whiskeys, along with good ol’ 95% rye sourced from Indiana’s MGP distillery — now called Ross & Squibb, at least under some circumstances, but none that I prefer to acknowledge at this point. All of it is aged at least four years in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s won its share of praise and plenty of hardware at spirits competitions, but given Perkins’ proven talent for sourcing and Nation’s tremendous pedigree, I came away disappointed. Maybe it wasn’t aged long enough, maybe something went wrong in the blending, but to my palate it was unbalanced, overly sweet, and a little too hot for a relatively low-ABV whiskey.
I feared the worst with Keeper’s Heart Irish + American 110 Proof. I mean, if the 86-proofer was hot, this could quite possibly melt my earlobes. But with whiskey as with life, sometimes a little extra alcohol makes all the difference. The 110 Proof is much more balanced and flavorful, and weirdly enough, it’s a much more graceful sipper. It comes on sweet, like lemon meringue pie with a big dollop of whipped cream on top, but as it glides throatward the rye picks up strength, and by the time it hits the back of the tongue there’s a tingly, spicy, oaky party going on, and my taste buds are chanting “M-G-P! M-G-P!” (Or maybe “Ross-And-Squibb!” But that isn’t nearly as catchy.) With a suggested retail price of $44.99, it’s good for both sipping and mixing. While it makes a fine highball, I’m more inclined to sip it neat or, if you must, with a single rock.
I’m very excited to taste what comes from the O’Shaughnessy stills in a few years’ time. But for now, I’ll happily sip on what Keeper’s Heart has whipped up to tide us over.