Expert View

At the Heart of it

Brian Nation, master distiller of Keeper’s Heart Irish American Whiskey produced in Minneapolis speaks to Fionnuala Carolan about the decision to take the leap from his former role as master distiller with Midleton Whiskey and how this new brand has managed to disrupt the market with its mix of Irish and American distilling processes. Keeper’s Heart is being launched in Ireland this month by Barry and Fitzwilliam and they are lauding it as a new style of American whiskey that pays homage to its deep Irish roots.
Brian Nation, master distiller of Keeper's Heart Whiskey

Brian Nation, master distiller of Keeper’s Heart Whiskey

Believe it or not but Brian Nation’s interest in whiskey really only began when he became involved in the industry and he says that it gave him a 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,” he explains. Nation’s background is in chemical and process engineering so in reality he had no notion of ending up in the whiskey industry after college but after working in pharma and oil refining for very short periods he 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 becoming master distiller in 2013 – replacing the then master distiller Barry Crockett. “This was a very proud moment as you can imagine,” he says. “I continued in this role until2020 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 being involved in building a new brand and new distillery from the ground up.”

From Cork to Minneapolis

Apart from the delay of over 12 months caused by the Covid Pandemic, the transition from Cork to Minneapolis went “as smooth as it possibly could go”. Nation says it was a big decision to move  as it had a wider impact on his family. “We all love living in Ireland and are really close to our families so this decision to move was not taken lightly.” However he says that the transition was helped greatly by the way they were welcomed into their new community by the O’Shaughnessy family, by their neighbours and Nation’s work colleagues and friends. “I think the thinking that helped the transition the most was our decision as a family to embrace this opportunity and adventure and really make the most out of it and to date we continue to do this,” he says. His days are very varied and can include anything from spending time in production with the distilling operations team to working on strategy with the CEO, finance and sales and marketing teams to being out in the market doing education seminars about Keeper’s Heart Whiskey. Nation says that one of the best parts of being involved in a start-up is that “everybody has the opportunity to be part of all aspects of the business and as a result you begin to develop other skills and competencies that you may never have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. Every day is a school day in a start-up and I love that aspect of the business,” he states.

Target market of Keeper’s Heart
Keeper’s Heart is a whiskey which tastes great neat on the rocks orin cocktails, according to Nation

Keeper’s Heart is a whiskey which tastes great neat on the rocks or in cocktails, according to Nation

Nation explains that Keeper’s Heart is a new style of whiskey that brings together the best of  Irish and American distilling traditions and techniques. “While the brand pays homage to our deep Irish roots, our target market is much broader than just Irish American,” he explains. “Our unique blend of smooth Irish grain whiskey, rich Irish pot still and bold American Rye whiskey and Bourbon delivers a whiskey that is incredibly versatile. It’s made to be enjoyed, neat, on the rocks or in cocktails and will appeal to whiskey drinkers from all backgrounds that enjoy discovering new and exciting expressions.”

The brand has had a really positive reception so far in the US and has generated a lot of media interest with over one billion media impressions since its launch. Nation says that they are thrilled with the incredible reception of Keeper’s Heart to date in the US. “We’re fortunate to have a great story to tell, we’re a new style of whiskey that has won over 35 awards in the last year to become the most-awarded new whiskey of 2022.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from whiskey enthusiasts and critics alike, who have praised our unique flavour profile and premium quality.” Their commitment to bringing together the best of Irish and American distilling traditions has resonated with consumers, and they have seen strongs ales growth in the US market becoming one of the fastest-growing new whiskey brands in the market.

There are certain occasion when they will market the brand and Nation says that St. Patrick’s Day is their favourite time of year. “What better celebratory spirit for Irish Americans than an Irish plus American whiskey? We’re also a whiskey that lends itself perfectly to gifting and holiday hosting so we’re focusing on key moments such as Mother’s and Father’s Days as well as the holidays but we ultimately see ourselves as a perfect year-round whiskey.”

Building trade advocacy

With a new brand it can be difficult to build loyalty and trust but with Keeper’s Heart they have focused on putting education at the forefront for both consumers and bartenders. “A big focus for us is to showcase each of the components that make up Keeper’s Heart whiskey and educating people on what makes Irish and American whiskey so unique. We also have a strong commitment to the bartenders and those that serve our whiskey – Keeper’s is a nod to the barkeepers after all. They are the ones that make our industry what it is so we always look to support this community in everything we do, from partnering with some great national trade events such as Tales of The Cocktail and Portland Cocktail Week to also supporting some great bartender charities such as Another Round, Another Rally and we plan to expand our support of the bartender community across the country as we continue to grow our presence in the US,” he explains.

Nation’s departure from Ireland and the biggest distillery in the country made some headlines both here and abroad in 2021 so being able to return to Ireland with a very new and unique whiskey gives the brand a great launch pad to introduce Keeper’s Heart to the Irish consumer. “Our focus is on getting as many people as possible to sample our whiskey so we will be popping up across Ireland this year at different events and activations. We have appointed Barry &Fitzwilliam as our Irish Distribution partners who have a great track record inbuilding premium brands. We look forward to a successful launch in the Irish market, kicking off this March our aim is to meet and introduce the brand to as many consumers as possible.”

Standing out

The combination of industry recognition and accolades they have garnered is giving them ample runwa yto continue to disrupt within the whiskey category ensuring Keeper’s Heart stands out on any shelf or back bar. The brand has some great partnerships lined up so make sure to keep track of Keeper’s Heart by following its social channels @keepersheartwhiskey to keep up to date with the latest happenings in Ireland and the US.


We asked Brian Nation what is his favourite way to drink Keeper’s Heart?“Keeper’s Heart is a whiskey which tastes great neat on the rocks or in cocktails. “My favourite way of drinking these whiskeys really depends on mood, occasion and location. I love both of them neat and my cocktail choices would be the old fashioned with the I+A(Irish and American) and a Manhattan with the I+B (Irish and Bourbon). Also on the cold days in Minnesota I find nothing better that enjoying KH I+A in a hot toddy or and Irish coffee. The flavours of the whiskey work so well in all of these cocktails and is the hero of the drink.”

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