Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength Whiskey Review

Drink Reviews whiskey
Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength Whiskey Review

Inter-whiskey style blending is a rare, not commonly explored endeavor in the American whiskey market. Here, you can find blends of bourbon and rye without too much difficulty, but once you start to venture outside of American whiskey styles, the examples become much less common. Even when blending styles from outside the U.S. would make perfect sense, companies still often elect not to do it. See: Kentucky Owl’s confusing St. Patrick’s Limited Edition from last year, which was a bourbon blend themed around Ireland, but didn’t contain any actual Irish distillate. I criticized that concept some at the time, feeling as if simply bringing in an Irish person to assist in blending doesn’t really hold up the “Irish” side of the bargain, when an actual blend of Irish and American whiskeys would have been significantly more novel. And as it turns out, that’s exactly the concept that the entire Keeper’s Heart brand celebrates.

This is a concept created by cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy, along with Michael’s father Gerry, who together founded the O’Shaughnessy Distillery in Minneapolis. All of Keeper’s Heart’s products–and they have more releases than one might expect–revolve around blends of American whiskey/bourbon with various Irish distillates. That’s a concept that could have been done in a very simplistic, cynical sort of way, but they really haven’t done that at all–the distillery brought in master distiller Brian Nation, who has seven years experience at Jameson, Redbreast, Midleton Very Rare, Spot, and Powers Irish Whiskey, and their resulting blends go out of their way to incorporate various aspects of Irish whiskey in particular.

Or in other words: When someone comes up with the idea to base their company around blends of Irish and American whiskey, I would expect a single flagship product that throws together bourbon and blended Irish whiskey at 40% ABV (80 proof) and just calls it a day. Keeper’s Heart, on the other hand, is a lot more ambitious than that.

I haven’t had a chance to try the company’s more entry level products, but what I have before me today is Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength Whiskey, a blend of 59% bourbon and 41% Irish whiskeys, coming in hot at a stout 59% ABV (118 proof). The whiskeys are all modestly aged, being based around 4-year bourbon, likely from MGP of Indiana, 4 year Irish grain whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and 4-year Irish triple distilled single pot still whiskey. I particularly appreciate the presence of the latter, as Irish single pot still whiskey is perhaps the purest expression of Ireland’s own regional style. It seems to suggest that Keeper’s Heart is really trying to genuinely deliver the identity of all the styles of whiskey in their blend. So with that said, let’s get to tasting.

On the nose, Keeper’s Heart Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength throws off some interesting, though slightly conflicting aromatics. I’m getting prominent green apple and anise, tinged with rye spice, though that earthy, spicy note is also somewhat suggestive of the subtle spiciness of unmalted barley found in single pot still Irish whiskey. There are traces of caramel chews as well, combining to form caramel apple and licorice aromatics. The ethanol, however, feels a little rowdy here on the nose given the advanced proof, and one wonders if these spirits are necessarily mature enough to stand up to this level of strength.

On the palate, this certainly stands out as unique, tasting distinctly unlike anything else I’ve run across in recent memory. Caramel and honey jockey for position on the sweeter side of the equation, while apple and pear fruit peek up, along with more of the licorice-like anise. Charred oak comes on increasingly strongly, representing more of the American side of the components, but the most commanding aspects becomes an intense peppery and chile-like spice, with a final twist of ashy char or espresso.

At the end of the day, I think the reality with this Irish + Bourbon Cask Strength expression is that the proof just becomes a bit too expressive for this blend, limiting the ability of the components to come together in a more subtle synthesis. The level of heat and pepperiness distracts somewhat from the whiskey’s other dimensions, though it’s still an interesting experiment in bringing the traditions of these two regions together. Perhaps a more delicate entry from Keeper’s Heart would appeal to me a bit more, or perhaps future batches can make use of spirits with greater maturation to round out some of their wilder edges.

Distillery: O’Shaughnessy Distillery
City: Minneapolis, MN
Style: Blended Irish and American whiskey
ABV: 59% (118 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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