A Brief History of Whiskey Blending
Blending whiskey is an art and a science, but it’s also one of the most vital and least discussed aspects of distilling. You’ll hear this description frequently mentioned in discussions about distilling, but blending truly deserves to have its own moment. And we’re not just saying that as groundbreaking blenders of Irish and American whiskeys who are reimagining centuries of well-established traditions. The truth is, most whiskeys are blended, and while we hope you enjoy Keeper’s Heart, it’s time for every whiskey blender to get the love and recognition that they so richly deserve. Because if you’re a fan of whiskeys, then you’ve appreciated the work they do.
So what does blending whiskey mean for Keeper’s Heart? A great deal. Keeper’s Heart began as a shared vision between cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy. The two had an idea to create a new style of whiskey that celebrated their Irish American heritage by blending American and Irish whiskeys together, culminating in a masterpiece unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. To the best of our knowledge, no one has seriously explored blending American and Irish whiskeys since William Jameson of the Jameson dynasty took a crack at it in the 1930s, and we believe that this skillful marriage of Irish grain and pot still whiskeys with a variety of American whiskeys offers drinkers a thrilling and undiscovered new world of flavors. Keeper’s Heart is a union of complementary whiskeys with a truly unique taste profile that’s balanced but versatile, and perfect neat, on the rocks or mixed into your favorite cocktail.
Blending is the time-honored practice of pouring whiskeys from multiple batches, ages and barrels together to create a specific flavor profile. This process is not specific to whiskey—almost every barrel-aged spirit from tequila to rum is blended. With this broad definition of blending, it’s impossible to say when it began historically. Some credit the Scots in the 19th century as the first to blend single malt pot still whiskey with grain whiskey. Others will cite the earlier practice of shops selling whiskey from a single barrel that would often be topped off with whatever was at hand. But blending, in the most basic sense, is likely as old as fermentation, which predates blended Scotch whisky by nearly 8,000 years. So cheers to the lost memory of that first, nameless blender in prehistory who thought, “Hey, I’ll bet these two drinks would taste better together.”
For whiskey, there’s an enormous range of flavors from barrel to barrel based on differences in the wood, rickhouse placement, regional climate and temperature variations over the years. Based on their proximity to exterior walls and different temperatures, barrels from one section of the rickhouse might feature strong vanilla notes, another section’s might taste more strongly of baking spices or fresh cut grass. A Blender’s job is to track all these developing, highly variable barrels and determine how to best bring them together to consistently match the taste profile designated for their brand’s flagship whiskeys—often on a massive scale. Honestly, it’s work that deserves a round of applause (and drinks).
A Master’s Craft
So yes, there’s a tremendous amount of science involved in tracking the flavors of a truly staggering number of barrels, often across multiple aging facilities. But the art lies in consistently bringing them all together—with all their variations—over and over again. So when we call blending an “art and a science,” we’re speaking to the massive levels of organization and incredibly skilled craftsmanship required to ensure that your second bottle of Keeper’s
Heart tastes just as good as the first.
Blending is not a mechanized process. Nothing has yet to rival the human palate for all the quality control tests and technology at our fingertips. And Keeper’s Heart is fortunate to have not one, but two unrivaled palates in the whiskey world. Our Master Distiller, Brian Nation, previously served as the Master Distiller for Jameson and created brands like Redbreast and Midleton. Being a consummate professional, Brian wanted to collaborate with a distiller who possessed a deep understanding of the American whiskey palate. Fortunately, his first choice was eager to explore this new territory of blending Irish and American whiskeys. As the founder of High West Distillery, David Perkins created a roster of bold, critically acclaimed blended whiskeys.
Always remember, if you’re going to break centuries of tradition, be sure to do it with the best. With a genuine legend of Irish whiskey and an American blending pioneer at the helm, Keeper’s Heart inaugural Irish + American is already the most awarded new whiskey of 2022, and our newest Irish + Bourbon release is catching up quickly. We’re confident that we’ve blended a winning whiskey team.