St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day at the dawn of the 17th century, and celebrates Irish culture in general. Irish whiskey is a part of that culture, and is believed to have originated around the 12th century. In fact, whiskey (or whisky) is a cultural assimilation of the classical Gaelic word uisce (or uisge) which means “water,” and what is referred to in Irish as “uisce beatha,” which means “water of life.” At one time, Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the world.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to highlight a United States distillery with Irish roots, and one that is bringing together American whiskey, bourbon, and Irish whiskey into unusual blends and styles, O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. The distillery was founded by cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy, along with Michael’s father Gerry. The three founders created O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co., which was built in an old potato factory in their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota and features three copper pot stills. They also acquired aged Irish whiskey stocks, and brought master distiller Brian Nation in, who spent the last seven years distilling Irish whiskey for Jameson, Redbreast, Midleton Very Rare, Spot, and Powers Irish Whiskey.
Their brand, Keeper’s Heart, explores unusual blends that bring together these whiskeys from across the pond. We discuss the unique aspects of Keeper’s Heart with Master Distiller Brian Nation.
Breaking Bourbon: What drew you into whiskey originally?
Nation: My interest in whiskey really only began when I became involved in the industry. It gave me greater appreciation for the process and ultimately the craft of whiskey making. Understanding the process, meeting and developing relationships with passionate people involved in the whiskey industry quickly developed my love and passion for whiskey making.
Breaking Bourbon: What has your experience been prior to becoming Master Distiller for O’Shaughnessy Distilling / Keeper’s Heart?
Nation: My background is chemical and process engineering so in reality I had no expectation of ending up in the whiskey industry after college but after working in pharma and oil refining for very short periods I took a role as environmental engineer in Irish Distillers Midleton, Cork in 1997 and ultimately stayed there working in different parts of the production plant and became master distiller in 2013 – replacing the then master distiller Barry Crockett. This was a very proud moment as you can imagine. I continued in this role until 2020 when I made the decision to take on a new challenge and become part of the O’Shaughnessy Distilling Team in Minneapolis with the opportunity to be involved in building a new brand and new distillery from the ground up. This was and is a really exciting opportunity and I am really enjoying the challenge.
Breaking Bourbon: What types of whiskey are you distilling currently?
Nation: Alongside our Liquid Collaborator and Advisor, David Perkins, we are distilling unique whiskeys that combine the best of the distillation processes for Irish and American whiskeys. Our unique liquid, distillate, and flavor profile sets itself apart from others in the whiskey category by combining the smooth clean flavor of Irish Whiskey and the bold rich flavor of American Whisky.
However, blending two unique liquids, American and Irish whiskies, can be a challenge. We want to make sure that these liquids complement one another and do not overshadow their distinctive flavor profiles. However, as whiskey fans begin to explore and find new notes, brands, and expressions, we are excited to welcome a new influx of loyal consumers who are looking for that approachable and versatile whiskey profile.
Breaking Bourbon: Is your own distillate in releases yet?
Nation: There hasn’t [been a] Keeper's Heart distillate released yet, but certainly will in coming years.
Breaking Bourbon: What aspects of how you distill at O’Shaunessy Distilling Co. are unique to American whiskey?
Nation: We distill our American whiskey in the traditional Irish style, using a triple copper pot still – while the tasting profile, this process allows us to constantly evolve and experiment with different styles of whiskies.
Breaking Bourbon: Blends of Irish whiskey and bourbon or American whiskey are unusual - different whiskey styles for sure. What inspired this fusion and what is the goal for the end product of these blends?
Nation: We wanted to create a whiskey that beautifully married these two iconic styles of whiskeys that a novice or expert whiskey enthusiast could enjoy neat or in a cocktail. Keeper’s Heart is dedicated to creating innovative and high-quality whiskies that novices and experts can enjoy.
Breaking Bourbon: What’s on the horizon for Keeper’s Heart?
Nation: Keeper’s Heart currently produces and matures triple pot distilled whiskeys in the traditional Irish style that will be released over the coming years
Breaking Bourbon: Today is St. Patrick’s Day. What should they be drinking and what will you be drinking to celebrate?
Nation: I’ll most likely be having a dram of Keeper’s Heart Irish + American with a few corned beef sliders!
Breaking Bourbon: Any fun St. Patrick’s Day traditions you can speak to or that take place at the distillery?
Nation: The distillery will be open from 1-11pm where visitors can enjoy live music from Loerweavers and Summerbabies, as well as watch Irish dancers perform. We will also be serving our delicious Keeper’s Mule and corned beef sliders.