Meet Andrew Kenny


I grew up on a dairy farm in Renfrew County, became a partner with my parents, and then took over the farm. I come from a long line of milk producers, so you could say I was born into the beverage industry. Producing quality milk requires some of the same skills as producing quality spirits. I figure since I am finally all grown up, it was time to move into adult beverages. “You only live once”

I started Kendu Innovations in 2005 and won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2009 for inventing a new style of livestock watering device that is replacing traditional watering devices across North America. This was my first plunge into an unknown industry, so its success gave me the confidence to look for another challenge. My formal education was in marketing but my education in agricultural was from my father Terry. I started brewing beer in college and I continue learning about beer and spirits from my long-time friend Eric. Discussions about breweries and distilleries with close friends over the years encouraged me to commit myself fully to this crazy distillery business. When I approached Don Dimonte from Last Straw Distillery with my questions about starting and running a distillery, he tried his best to talk me out of it. He told me all about the negative parts about owning a distillery. When he realized that I was still determined to start my distillery despite his warnings, he said, “OK, come on down and I will show you how we do it.” The rest is history and now we find ourselves with a growing group of customers that now name an O’Kenny product as their favourite spirit. There are so many people that helped along the way.

It has always been very satisfying for me to search for new and better methods to complete a task, so it isn’t a surprise that I am finding new methods to make spirits, to market them and to distribute them. I will admit that it is usually easier to follow the conventional methods but sometimes you need to try something unorthodox to get the results you desire. Everything stems from one very simple idea. I am not trying to make spirits that I like.  I am trying to make spirits that my customers like. It is then logical that my customers are the ones that should be in full control of how our spirits taste. They should be there on day one when we decide which spirit to make and everyday after that making small changes until the customers do a final blind taste test to confirm that the product they designed tastes better than all the rest.  I will continue to add more products to our O’Kenny lineup with the goal of producing a spirit that everyone can call their favourite. Thanks to everyone who has helped with suggestions and doing tastings and giving your opinions. You are the people behind the O’Kenny products.

O’Kenny History

Most of the Kenny clan in Renfrew County descend from farmers in County Fermanagh, Ireland. This county has supplied the Bush Mills Distillery to the north with much of its malt barley for as long as can be recorded.

Bush Mills was established in 1608. It is the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. John Kenny left his farm in County Fermanagh with his wife Margaret in 1840 prior to the potato famine. They settled on a farm on the Beachburg Road between Beachburg and Pembroke. His Great Grandson purchased the giant red brick Midway House on the Beachburg Road. This Midway house was set up in the 1800’s on the main road to welcome travelers that were travelling between Pembroke and Beachburg. When I was born I lived in this house when I came home from the Pembroke hospital.

The Kenny name was shortened from O’Kenny sometime before John Kenny left Ireland. O’Kenny is the anglicized version of the Gaelic name O’Coinnigh. “Coin” means love and “Nigh” refers to the pre Christian God of Fire. The rough translation of Kenny is “Fiery Love”. Fiery love is represented in the O’Kenny logo by the flame and hearts.

Earliest known history: The earliest mention of the name O’Coinnigh was used for a sixth Century Monk who was known simply as “O’Coinnigh”. His followers called themselves the Church of O’Coinnigh. The King of England at the time pushed O’Coinnigh out of Ireland for some unknown reason. (perhaps tax evasion) When O’Coinnigh left his followers did just that. They followed him to Scotland to escape the oppression of the King. It is reasonable to think that O’Coinnigh the Monk may have had a skill in distilling that made him unpopular with the King but popular with his followers. That makes total sense. This may be a stretch but O’Connigh’s story sounds very similar to the well-known story of a thief who would steel from the rich to give to the poor.

Before we produce our first bottle of O’Kenny Spirits, we have decided to follow several core beliefs that we hope will steer us in the right direction to meet our patron’s needs.

Core Beliefs

Core Belief #1

Drink responsibly: Alcohol can have devastating effects on the people around you that you love.

If you drink too often or too much and your behavior is harming you or someone else, you can get help to gain control by contacting AA.

If someone’s drinking is effecting your life negatively, please contact Alanon.

Arrive Alive, Drive Sober. We are all adults, so we always have a choice that will allow us to keep our fellow drivers safe. Planning ahead is our most valuable tool and having reasonable options will help us plan ahead. At O’Kenny we pledge to make those options more affordable and easier to access. We need more cab drivers on the roads with creative methods to get our rural patrons home economically. We need BETTER CELL SERVICE to our rural patrons so they can contact someone to share a ride to and from an event.

Plan ahead; Arrive Alive, Drive Sober.

Core Belief #2

O’Kenny is the People’s Distillery

O’Kenny craft spirits are produced for the people,  by the people,  with the people. We involve the people from the very first step in deciding how to make a spirit that tastes better than others. All the decisions are based on hundreds and sometimes thousands of people doing blind tastings at every stage as we develope a new product.

You can be involved right from the beginning of these exciting adventures. We put the names of the people that came in to our final Rye Whisky tasting on a plaque.  I think we should find a way to put the name of everyone that helps with a new product on the bottle. Until I figure that out we will put their names on a plaque. An adventure is only as good as the people that are on it with you.

We invite you to follow us on Facebook, instagram or sign up for the newsletter for updates on our progress and our setbacks. We will ask for your opinions and suggestions regularly. The first assistance we asked for back in 2018 was to decide on the best logo to represent the O’Kenny brand. Some distillery owners may believe that it is the owner who should have the sole right to make this crucial decision. As the founder of O’Kenny, I believe it is important to understand that the customer’s and community’s opinion should take priority.

Our Pembroke Distillery is located on a beuatiful 4 acre property just off the Trans Canada Highway. We want  our river front property to be inviting for you to stop by and see what we are working on. We want you to try a blind taste test and give us your opinion. Norki’sSnack Shack will be cooking some amazing food. This summer we are starting some fun activities that will get you out to see us. Try river tubing on our lazy river. Park your RV for the night or bring your tent for some camping. We might get those axe throwing targets up this summer too. Remember that you are the People and O’Kenny is the People Distillery, so stop by and claim your right to do a taste test and influence the next great O’Kenny spirit.

Core Belief #3

Remove the heads and keep them removed

The batch distillation process removes harmful compounds known as the heads from the good ethanols that make up great tasting spirits known as the hearts. It makes absolutely no sense to put heads back into our still with the next batch of YOUR spirits, so I refuse to do this.

This is the common practice of most distilleries to separate the tiny amount of good ethanol in the heads to use in their spirits. These poisonous compounds include acetone, methanol, aldehydes, and other volitiles. It is foolish to let these poisons taint our next batch. They are known to be the cause of hangovers since they are essentially the same compounds used as solvents to remove paint. Once we remove the head from our spirits they will stay removed. No one likes a hangover. O’Kenny will be proud to call our spirits “Permanently Decapitated”. We will include the subtle image of a guillotine on our packaging to remind you that we value our customers too much to add poison to their drinks. If you can find the guillotine on our bottle please explain this to a friend.

Further explanation: A still is filled with a liquid called the wash or beer with 4 to 10 percent alcohol. The still is heated from about 30 degrees C up towards the evaporation point of ethyl alcohol (good alcohol) 78.4 degrees. On the way to 78.4 degrees, the liquid will reach 74 degrees. This is the temperature that more volatile poisonous compounds will turn to a gas. If liquid is condensing and dripping into a collection vessel before it reaches 78.4 it is not the good ethyl alcohol we are trying to produce. These first liquids are known as the heads. They represents between 5 to 15% of the volume of the run. A skilled distiller will hold the temperature of the still just below the magic 78.4 degree point. When the liquid stops running they can be satisfied that the heads have been removed. They will continue to raise the temp slowly until the liquid begins to run again. A diligent distiller will taste the liquid to be certain that the hearts (good ethyl alcohol) have begun to run before they direct them to be collected. They will risk poisoning to protect you. You may notice the hearts on the O’Kenny logo. These should remind you that we only bottle the hearts of the spirit; and discard the heads.

Cheaper alcohol brands generally have a slight taste of their heads because of the continual reintroduction of the heads. Large brands use a continuous distillation process instead of batch distillation. The heads never get cut from the hearts. O’Kenny will use smarter methods to provide our spirits to you at a reasonable price.

Core Belief #4

Innovation should be encouraged; not stifled

We will embrace the innovation of our ancestors but strive to discover our own innovation as well. Some distillers frown upon new innovations that seem to break with tradition but they forget that innovation IS our tradition.

Barrel aging whiskey was an innovative process that was discovered by accident several centuries ago. In the 18th century distillers would have considered barrel aging to be new technology that all the distillers started adopting. Thankfully they did embrace it because it truly makes our spirits taste better. If a new technology makes the spirits you drink taste better without any negative impacts, we would be foolish to ignore it. O’Kenny Spirits will embrace barrel aging as well as new natural processes that we are certain will improve our spirits taste.

Explanation: Humans have been distilling spirits for 4 thousand years, so any change within 2 or 3 hundred years could still be considered a new innovation. In the 18th century liquids were put into barrels for only one reason; transportation. Liquor was shipped by sailing vessel in barrels to other markets. On occasion the alcohol would stay in the barrel longer than intended and when it was opened it had a brownish tinge to it. This was not desirable but some people would drink it anyways. People eventually realized that they enjoyed the smoother richer taste of the brown liquor and barrel aging became a popular taste enhancing process. True barrel aging was done on ships that swayed and rocked in the water which kept the spirit constantly moving around the barrel. Regulatory barrel aging was first instituted by Canada in 1890. Our country set a formal requirement that required 2 full years of barrel aging before a spirit could be called “Canadian Whisky”. Other countries such as Ireland and Scotland followed our standard, but not until 25 years later.

Further study of barrel aging has explained in detail how it works. The process that occurs when a white whisky sits in an oar barrel is known as esterification. Esters are essentially the flavours of a spirit. Esterification occurs when the wood absorb the alcohol liquid deeply into its fibers because the spirit is a solvent and the esters are changed or transformed. Esters are exchanged between the spirit and the wood. The result is that the esters in the spirit are changed and combined with the esters in the wood. New combinations of esters are created. As much as 90 percent of the flavours in a dark spirit result from esterification. Barrel aging is a wonderful process that makes your spirits taste better however almost all distilleries age their whiskeys to simply meet regulations. They build huge warehouses where the spirits will sit without moving for their entire aging period. This is the most inefficient method to esterificate spirits. The only surface area of the wood that is exposed to the spirit is the inside portion of the barrel staves and a large portion of the barrel at the top is never in contact with the spirit. Only a thin layer of spirits will be exposed to the barrel staves. The vast majority of the liquid in the barrel will not be esterificated. The vast majority of whisky is aged this way. I call this regulatory barrel aging. You can call this traditional only if you consider government interference to be a tradition. True barrel aging was discovered when spirit barrels in transport on ships spent longer than intended on route to their destination. The barrels would be in constant movement as the ship rolled and heaved on the water. The constant mixing would bring new spirit against the wood to get absorbed. These ships were far from climate controlled and the changes in temperature and pressure aided esterification.

Known technology to improve the conditions for esterification:
Increase surface area: Introduce staves inside the barrel to increase surface area of wood contacting the spirits.
Roll the barrels slightly to expose a little more wood to the liquid.
Roll the barrels significantly to stir up the liquid to bring new liquid in contact with the wood.
Allow fluctuations in temperature to occur. As the temperature rises the wood will open up to absorb more liquid and when the temperature decreases the wood compresses to push the liquid out.

O’Kenny will Employ True Barrel Aging

Our barrels will be on display to our patrons and they will be encouraged to assist our efforts to promote esterification. Our rack houses will be small steel containers with large glass windows facing south to allow the sun to heat up the barrels during the day and when night arrives the hot steel rackhouses will be vented to cool off quickly. Our visitors will be allowed and even encouraged to roll the barrels; the more movement the better.
Large speakers will be placed strategically to vibrate the rackhouses to encourage etherification.

Future Traditional Plans: Hiring a tall sailing ship to transport our aging whisky around the world may raise the cost per bottle a couple hundred dollars but the next best thing is to build a barge to float on the mighty Mustrat River. The constant movement will have the same effect as the more expensive option.

Future Innovative Plans: Large lexane columns (16 feet tall x 4 feet diameter) will contain spirits. Large racks of barrel staves will be submerged in the column like a giant tea bag. The rack will be lowered to the bottom during the heat of the day and raised just below the surface at night. The change in pressure from 16 feet deep to 3 feet is considerable. The wood will absorb the spirits at the bottom of the column in the heat of the day and release the spirits at the top at night. Our patrons can observe this process while driving by on the road, The large columns will be erected on the front lawn of our distillery grounds to absorb the heat of the sun. Large speakers placed at the base will vibrate the spirits with our favorite songs. (if our neighbours aren’t bothered) We will take requests.