Irish whiskey founder travels country in Airstream
"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com – brought to you by Absolut, Avion, Fireball, Pama, Red Stag and 2 Gingers – is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
Irish-born Kieran Folliard has lived in Minnesota for three decades. He founded four Irish pubs before leaving the bar business to launch his own brand of Irish whiskey in 2011.
Named 2 Gingers for his fiery-haired mother and aunt, Folliard's distillate is a light whiskey with a hint of sweetness. It is aged in sherry casks for four years and has hints of honey, citrus and vanilla.
At the end of 2012, Folliard sold the growing company to Jim Beam and now serves as chief operating officer for 2 Gingers and chief U.S. ambassador for all of Beam's Irish whiskey brands, including Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Greenore and Connemara.
Since then, the brand has grown beyond its Minnesota roots and will soon be available in all 50 states. It is distilled at the Kilbeggan Distillery in Ireland.
Folliard is currently "on tour" promoting 2 Gingers, traveling to 14 cities over six weeks via an Airstream camper to meet distributors, consumers and bar owners.
The first stop was in Milwaukee where he conducted product samplings at the Metro Market, 1123 N. Van Buren St., and Discount Liquor, 5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Folliard admits that he did not grow up drinking whiskey. As a child, whiskey was used as an anesthetic when he had a toothache – and his family sometimes drank hot toddies on Christmas – but otherwise, he was a Guinness drinker.
"Nobody of my generation drank whiskey. I've been drinking Guinness since I was 15," he says. "I still remember the pub where I had my first Guinness. I went to play football with some older guys and they went for pints after and I had one, too, and oh my God, the taste of it."
Contrary to popular belief, Folliard says a Guinness in the United States can taste just as good as the one served in Ireland.
"It's really about the lines being clean, having it at the right temperature and the gas pressure and if the bartenders understand how to properly poor a pint," he says.
As a bar owner, Folliard started tasting more whiskeys and thinking deeply about the spirit. He decided he wanted to create a whiskey that didn't make people shudder after they drank it – as well as one that appealed to women.
"We created a whiskey with a smooth finish," says Folliard. "And it took the burn off the end."
Folliard asked himself more questions, like how could he sell as much whiskey in the summer as in the winter?
"Few people want to sit on a patio in 80-degree weather and drink a neat whiskey," he says. "I realized what we needed was a cocktail. And not one that cost $15 and took 10 minutes to make because someone has to peel an orange and shave ice to serve it. One that cost about what a beer costs, was refreshing and had character."
Folliard created The Big Ginger (2 Gingers whiskey, ginger ale and a lime over ice) and The Skinny Ginger (made with diet ginger ale). He also realized no one had trademarked such drinks, and so he did.
Fifty-eight years ago, Folliard was born in what he describes as a "wee village" in Ireland's County Mayo named Ballyhaunis. His parents were third cousins and did not get married until they were middle aged.
"My kids always say all of this explains a lot about me," laughs Folliard.
His parents passed away years ago, but Folliard continues to visit Ireland, often for business, but in April he is going back strictly for pleasure.
Folliard is still very close with friends from his childhood, gets the village newspaper and listens every Sunday to the local football match.
He says, aside from friends, he misses Irish humor the most.
"It's a self-deprecating humor. And nobody lets you get away with anything; they stick it to you right then and there. I like that. There's something very grounding about it," he says.
In conjunction with OnMilwaukee.com's Bar Month, many local bars are offering drink specials made with 2 Gingers whiskey. Here's a full list.
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