Whiskey price

Impresario Kieran Folliard returns to his roots with a new Irish whiskey

Among the challenges of launching a new product in the midst of a pandemic and some of the worst supply chain shortages in recent memory, one hiccup that Kieran Folliard could not have foreseen was that there would be too many of glue.

Folliard sat on a stool in the atrium of the Food Building, his northeast Minneapolis craft store, and struggled to open a bottle of his new whiskey, Red Locks. The paper sealing the cork was glued to the glass with abandon, or so he thought.

He sawed it off with someone’s keys. He sliced ​​it with a knife from the restaurant that bears his name, Kieran’s Kitchen Northeast. No chance.

Then Red Locks brand manager Alex Capper noticed something. Folliard had not removed the plastic liner that held the paper seal. Getting into that liquid gold went much faster after that.

“The old man couldn’t open the bottle,” Folliard said with a laugh, in his signature brogue.

This old man is not that old – he is 66 years old. And with his latest project, a new whiskey blended in Ireland, he continues his seemingly lifelong effort to reinvent himself.

An entrepreneurial journey

The Irish-born serial entrepreneur is known in the Twin Cities as much for his effervescent personality as for the many businesses he’s set up here. He played a pivotal role in establishing the area’s Irish pub scene with his portfolio of restaurants – Kieran’s Irish Pub (yes, it’s that Kieran), the Local, the Liffey and the since renamed Cooper.

In 2011, due to Minnesota liquor laws, he had to quit his first ventures in order to develop his second, the 2 Gingers whiskey brand, named after two prominent redheads in the Folliard family. (State law prohibits ownership of both a distillery and a retail outlet, such as a bar.)

He then sold 2 Gingers to liquor giant Beam Suntory and remained with the company as an ambassador until the end of last year.

In the meantime, he launched the Food Building, an ambitious production facility for some of Minnesota’s top food manufacturers – Alemar Cheese Co., Red Table Meat Co., Baker’s Field Flour & Bread. Then he opened his eponymous café (117 14th Av. NE., Mpls.), which incorporates the bounty of the building into fresh dishes as one pleases. He is currently collaborating with inventive bar consultant Marco Zappia and his 3Leche collective to build a fermentation lab that transforms these food producers’ leftovers into new products, which would bridge the waste gap.

In the midst of all this, Folliard released another whisky. Red Locks – again, a reference to hair or, he says, roots – is now making its way onto the shelves of liquor stores and behind the bars of Irish pubs in the Twin Cities.

Sweet like whiskey

Distilled in Ireland by Noel Sweeney, who also worked with Folliard on 2 Gingers, Red Locks is crafted to appeal to the American palate. The blend is smoother and richer than other whiskeys, slightly sweet, and because it’s aged in a variety of casks – including sherry, rye and, exceptionally, virgin oak – it has hints of vanilla. , honey, citrus, rich fruit and a hint of that pure wood. Sweeney described it as “Christmas”, like fruitcake.

When it comes to brown liquors, there’s nothing too assertive about it. It goes with anything. Simply put, it’s smooth, like Folliard itself.

“Kieran is the sweetest guy in town,” said Tim McCormick, owner of McCormick’s Pub and Restaurant in Wayzata. “It’s like the words and the music come together with Kieran, and the words and the music come together with this whiskey.”

In a way, Red Locks is an ode to Folliard’s keen ability to make his own music over and over again. And Folliard veers into motivational speaker territory when he talks about it.

“I’ve always wanted to create a brand that truly represents the idea of ​​encouraging and motivating people to achieve their dreams and ideas,” Folliard said. “The emotional benefits of acting on your ideas far outweigh the safety of not acting on the ideas.”

Putting that message on a spirit, as opposed to a food brand, made sense to Folliard. After all, whiskey is just the liquid encouragement some people need. “You know, I’ve never had good ideas over a cup of coffee,” he joked.

Working with Sweeney, the master distiller, also made sense. Their working relationship dates back around 15 years and Sweeney grew up just 10 miles from Folliard’s hometown in County Mayo.

“With his expertise, his experience and his passion for the business, that has been his whole life,” Folliard said of Sweeney. “It was him and I going back and forth and coming together in terms of the mix, and it’s a pretty complex mix. We want to have a fundamental brand that really stands for something.”

Sweeney said their collaboration was seamless, despite being an ocean apart for most of the product development. Folliard’s personality certainly helped, he said. “He’s a very flamboyant character, easy to talk to and very driven about what he wants to do,” Sweeney said. “He’s very capable and he’s got a lot of experience in the industry. And I think he’s very charismatic.”

But even Folliard has been rocked by the pandemic, and the bumps in the road that led to Red Locks – such as packaging shortages and the inability to travel back and forth to Ireland – have also become a part. of the message. This adventure, for Folliard, is as much about effort as it is about the end result.

“I think there’s an element, culturally, to Irish people of self-mockery. And if you have that self-mockery, it keeps you very grounded. Don’t put anyone on a pedestal and start with yourself,” Folliard said. . . “It feeds into the idea of ​​warts and all. Because it’s the reality. No perfect product is launched.”

Even the heavily stuck seal becomes a selling point, Capper said. “Our bottle is really hard to open,” she said, “but the juice is worth it.”

Strong competition

Among those who took an early sip, there’s consensus that the whiskey – competitively priced at around $25 for a 750ml bottle – punches above its weight.

“It tasted like a premium Irish whiskey,” McCormick said. “It totally blew my mind.”

Joel McLay, owner of distributor Small Lot Wine & Spirits, has chosen Red Locks as the first spirit in his portfolio.

“The product itself is superior and much more complex than other products in the same price category,” McLay said. “It’s a great expression of what Kieran was going to do next.”

For starters, the Founders Edition of Red Locks is only available in Minnesota, but McLay expects its reach to expand, given Folliard’s track record.

Expectations are high, even in a crowded estate of whiskeys with local connections. And with 2 Gingers still out there, Folliard’s insatiable pursuit of his dreams has made him a contender against himself.

Like self-mockery, Folliard says it’s just another Irish trait.

“Competitiveness is another thing. We like to fight in our corner, that’s for sure,” he said. “But it can be fun.”