When cousins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy shared some whiskey at a family reunion several years ago, their conversation touched on the importance of family, on connecting future generations of the O’Shaughnessy clan, and on leaving a legacy. After a few glasses, they realized that building a distillery in Minneapolis could achieve all this and more.

Their vision included a facility for making authentic Irish-American whiskey that also offered a lounge where families could gather to make memories. The building would marry form and function with striking beauty, while paying homage to the family’s heritage and inspiring and educating visitors about the distilling process.

Patrick and Michael moved quickly from daydream to action and began working on plans with Cunningham Group, an architecture firm with five decades of experience. Cunningham suggested bringing in an experienced construction partner early in the process to eliminate challenges down the line.

“We partnered up with Cunningham on preconstruction and we were able to work out onsite logistics even as they were finalizing the design,” says Mike Osowski, senior project manager with PCL. This afforded the team early logistical coordination into design, such as identifying the need for larger doors and openings in order to install expensive distilling equipment.

While today The O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. is quickly becoming a landmark in Minneapolis and it’s flagship offering, Keeper’s Heart Whiskey, is rapidly expanding with the ambition to become a global brand, bringing the vision of Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy to life took teamwork, tenacity, and innovation.

The client selected a wonderful location for the distillery— a historic, two-story brick building a stone’s throw from the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis. The design called for the 80-year-old building to be persevered with the new distillery effectively built around it.

Preserving the city’s architectural history in this way presented two challenges to the construction team.

The first was the older building itself. Unoccupied for years, its bricks were stained and covered in graffiti. Its structural viability was questionable.

“The roof in particular was in really rough shape,” says Osowski. “It was made of precast planks with a built-up roof system. From the inside they looked fine, but once we started taking off the roofing material above, we could see they had degraded considerably.”

Prompt structural analysis revealed that parts of the roof were not suitable for the new building’s design. The building team was able to shore up these weak points with structural members of steel decking.

The second challenge was more difficult to overcome. The team needed to reconfigure the older building, which previously operated as potato processing plant, to suit its new function. They also needed to ensure the elaborate wood finishes in what would eventually become the tasting lounge could be installed with tight tolerances.

This made the building team’s margin for error unusually thin. In some areas this was managed with technology like the Job Site Insights™ smart IoT construction platform, part of the Latium Technologies Suite.   

In others it was a matter of superior project management.

The O’Shaughnessy Distillery’s engine is its stills—three custom-made burnished copper behemoths imported from Scotland. They are so big, in fact, that they had to be installed before most of the construction was finished. The mezzanine of the distillery was literally built around them.

This created elevated risk and the need to carefully plan and manage construction activity to protect the expensive stills from potentially being damaged by construction activities happening around them. Any damage to the stills would throw the budget and schedule into potential chaos.

To manage this risk, the team covered the stills in special padded blankets. That took care of incidental contact and scratches, but no practical covering could manage the risk of heavy equipment seriously damaging the copper.

The solution? Careful communication and proactive teamwork.

“Nobody wanted to be the one to damage those pots,” says Osowski. “Blankets will stop minor scratches, but the most important thing was communicating well with all our subtrades and suppliers. We made sure they understood that damaging these were not an option. Everything they did required planning around that, including taking extra time if needed.”

The eye-catching stills are complimented by wooden accents in the main lounge to round out the European-inspired aesthetic. The multi-cure coffered ceiling proved as charming after construction as it was delicate to build. PCL again used Job Site Insights sensor technology to track humidity and protect the wood design during Minnesota’s harsh winter months of production.

The distillery stands today as a testament to family and as a temple to Irish-American whiskey. Its flagship product, Keeper’s Heart, is rapidly making its mark on the American spirits industry, thanks in no small part to the attention of master distiller Brian Nation, who left his post overseeing iconic Irish brands such as Jameson, Redbreast and Midleton Very Rare to lead O’Shaughnessy Distillery.

The building team took pride in bringing the vision of the O’Shaughnessys into reality. Along the way, some of their passion may have rubbed off on the team.

“It was a fun and challenging project for us,” says Osowski. “Many projects we do are not open to the public when we finish, and we are not able to showcase them. But this one is.

“In fact, PCL held their Fiscal Year End celebration at the distillery.”