Brian Nation has traveled far to spread the gospel of Irish whiskey—3,689 miles, to be exact. After seven years as master distiller at the Jameson Distillery Midleton in County Cork, Ireland, he recently relocated to Minneapolis to help start the brand-new O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co.
The story begins, in 21st-century fashion, with a LinkedIn message from Twin Cities venture capital investor Patrick O’Shaughnessy, who was inspired by his family heritage to start a whiskey distillery. At first, Nation was interested only in offering advice, but as talks progressed, he told O’Shaughnessy, “If I can do anything to help you without… any conflict with my own role, then I’ll do it with a heart and a half, because it’s great to see an interest in Irish whiskey.”
O’Shaughnessy and his cousin and cofounder, Michael O’Shaughnessy, eventually convinced Nation to come on as their master distiller, and he dove into building an operation from the ground up, consulting on everything from bottle design to tasting courses. His primary focus, though, is making the spirit itself. He’s using American grains to create an Irish-style whiskey that’s triple-distilled in copper pots from Forsyths in Scotland, the same company that provides Jameson with its stills.
“I was extremely fortunate to have 23 great years at Irish Distillers, seven of which I was master distiller, and I am very proud of everything I achieved there,” Nation says, “but there was just something that drew me toward this.”
After more than a year of pandemic-related ups and downs, the distillery, complete with a full production facility, a lounge with several bars, and a gift shop, finally opened its doors in August in Minneapolis’s hip Prospect Park neighborhood. Because of the years-long barrel-aging process that fine whiskey undergoes, it will take time for many of Nation’s efforts to bear fruit. For now, guests can taste Keeper’s Heart Irish + American Whiskey, which blends pot-still and grain whiskeys from Ireland’s Great Northern Distillery with American rye whiskey sourced from the former Seagram’s distillery (now MGP) in Indiana. Other offerings include rare 20- and 30-year single malts sourced from Ireland, as well as housemade gin and vodka—but the whiskey is the priority.
“We’ve put ourselves on a strategic road map for the next five to 10 years, where we can identify different [grain] types that we are going to use and different distillation techniques to bring an additional taste profile,” Nation explains. We can’t wait to get to the end of that rainbow.