It’s St Patrick’s Day and what better way to get in the spirit than taking a look inside O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co, makers of Keeper’s Heart Irish American Whiskey. The whiskey hails from Minneapolis, but the man behind the malt is none other than Brian Nation, former Master Distiller at Irish Distillers.
Brian has been responsible for some of the world’s most famous Irish whiskeys, including Jameson and Midleton Very Rare. But now he’s taking on a new challenge at O’Shaughnessy as he blends the best of American and Irish whiskey traditions to make Keeper’s Heart.
We sat down with Brian Nation to learn about Keeper’s Heart, his St Patrick’s Day traditions, and what is happening behind the doors at O’Shaughnessy.
Spirited Zine: Can you tell us about the first time you tried whiskey and how that moment led to you creating Keeper’s Heart?
I never really appreciated whiskey until I began working in the industry back in 1997. Appreciating the taste and understanding the craft that goes into producing whiskey gave me a whole new appreciation and started me on the journey that I am still on today. It is great to be doing something that you love and to have the opportunity now to pursue my dream to create a truly distinct whiskey that captures the best parts of my Irish heritage and my fresh roots in the U.S.
SZ: You were the Master Distiller at Jameson. What got you to make the jump from Ireland to the US?
There were many factors, first and foremost it was the people I met – Patrick, Michael, and Gerry – they were great company and very passionate and extremely friendly. It felt more like meeting up with old friends than a first-time introduction. Their emphasis on family values and sharing moments with the people you love really inspired me. Having the opportunity to be part of a team to build a new world-class distillery and be involved in every step of it has been fantastic. Finally, to help build a new whiskey style and brand from the ground up is an amazing opportunity that most people don’t get in their lives or careers. Our first whiskey release, Keeper’s Heart Irish + American, combines the unique flavor profiles from Irish and American whiskey that is really a new taste experience and really worth trying. That ethos translates into our brand, the distillery, the liquid, it’s all about connection, and keeping the people that matter most to you, close to you.
SZ: How are you bringing together Irish and American whiskey traditions? And what do you find to be the most interesting portions of each?
At our distillery, we use 100% American grains but distill in the traditional Irish Distillation Style of triple distillation, using three copper pot stills. We are currently producing American single Pot Still at our Distillery and will soon be producing other exciting distillates using our copper pot stills which will be new to the world. It’s truly the best of both worlds.
In terms of Keeper’s Heart Irish + American Whiskey, the combination of bringing the smoothness and richness of Irish Grain and Pot Still Whiskeys together with the boldness of American Rye creates a very complex and well-balanced whiskey that delivers a fantastic taste experience of orchard and tropical fruits coated in baking spices with a nicely charred oak in the background.
SZ: What was the most challenging part of bringing Irish whiskey traditions into American whiskey and into an American working environment?
BN: Being so used to a certain way of distilling kept me feeling comfortable. I wanted to challenge myself and find a way to take everything I have learned to date and create something entirely new with it. Starting Keeper’s Heart from the ground up with the O’Shaughnessy’s and the rest of the team was the challenge I was looking for, and the challenge that keeps my job exciting to this very day as it allows me to constantly innovate with new blends, flavors, and practices.
SZ: Can you tell us a bit about the “Almost Everyone is Excited” campaign?
BN: We’re excited to launch our first campaign which was focused around establishing our brand personality. While we’re serious in how we make our whiskey we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously when it comes to enjoying it, so it was fun to develop.
The campaign serves as a nod to my Irish roots, leaving my previous role along with my friends and family was a huge move both personally and professionally, so it felt fitting to bring this to life in a lighthearted and unexpected way, while showcasing our intention to have fun along this journey.
The campaign is also an invitation to the people of Ireland to visit us in Minneapolis and taste our whiskey which we’re really proud of. For St. Patrick’s Day we’re inviting everyone to celebrate at our distillery where we’ll be providing Keeper’s Heart samples to anyone that has an Irish passport, a good Irish accent, some decent Irish dance moves or if your name sounds remotely Irish!
SZ: What are you expecting from your first St Patrick’s Day in the US and how is the O’Shaughnessy distillery going to celebrate?
BN: We have an action-packed day in store. We’re proud to be sponsoring the St. Patrick’s Day parades in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul and I’m looking forward to visiting and supporting the Twin City bars that are celebrating the day with Keeper’s Heart. At the distillery we’ll be dialing things up with live music and entertainment throughout the day and offering Keeper’s Heart samples to those that show their Irish side. We’ll also be celebrating our first Irish holiday in the US with a cocktail made for the occasion, the Keeper’s Mule, by putting spin on the classic cocktail that combines the freshness of ginger and mint with the richness of Keeper’s Heart’s unique blend of Irish and American Whiskey, so it’s going to be a fun day out!
SZ: What are some of the St Patrick’s Day traditions you are bringing from Ireland to the States and what is different about each country’s celebrations?
BN: Whether back home or in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day for me is all about spending quality time with friends and family, taking time out and making the most of the moment. That’s the unique thing about St. Patrick’s Day and why it’s such a great holiday throughout the world, as it’s all about bringing people together and celebrating the moment. We’re thrilled to be able to do so in person this year and at our distillery for the first of many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations!
SZ: How do you like to enjoy Keeper’s Heart whiskey? Neat, straight, rocks, in a cocktail?
BN: Keeper’s Heart truly is the ideal whiskey for sipping and cocktails alike. It stands so strong on its own but shines when mixed. I personally love it on its own but getting to experiment with Pip Hanson’s (Food and Beverage Director at Keeper’s Heart) unique creations has me craving delicious cocktails like our Old Fashioned.
SZ: If you had to choose, Irish whiskey or American whiskey?
Because of Keeper’s Heart, I’ll never have to make that choice!
For more information, head over to the brand’s official website.