Kieran Folliard's Minnesota experiment with 2 Gingers Irish whiskey is going national. The former Twin Cities restaurateur and Beam Inc. announced Friday that the distilled spirits giant has acquired 2 Gingers for an undisclosed price.

Folliard will stay with 2 Gingers, which he unveiled in Minnesota last winter, and will represent Beam's fledgling line of Irish whiskeys as "Chief Irish Whiskey Ambassador in the U.S."

It was a heady announcement for Folliard, who rolled out 2 Gingers in January and immediately got in a legal dispute with Irish whiskey behemoth Jameson over the use of drink names Big Ginger and Skinny Ginger, which were the staple cocktails of his Twin Cities pubs.

That dispute was resolved less than a month before St. Patrick's Day, one of Minnesota's (and the nation's) largest Irish whiskey consumption days of the year.

Now, 2 Gingers will become a national competitor of Jameson, owned by giant spirits maker Pernod Ricard.

"We now have a chance for growth that a small company would need decades to attempt," Folliard said in a fact sheet sent to his newsletter subscribers. "Beam's resources along with our brand recognition in Minnesota can mean greater results for expansion."

Part of Folliard's assignment with Beam will be to serve as chief operating officer of its Kilbeggan Distillery in Ireland, where both 2 Gingers and Beam's other Irish whiskeys are produced.

"We've been tied to the hip to a large degree," the Irish-born Folliard said in an interview Friday, noting that Beam bought the distillery just after he launched 2 Gingers in January. "We got along together, and they liked our story. My accent didn't hurt, either."

Chris Bauder, Beam's general manager of whiskey products, said Beam entered the "fast-growing" Irish whiskey market when it acquired Kilbeggan Distilling Co. and the brands Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell, Greenore and Connemara. Bauder said 2 Gingers gives Beam a U.S. product to promote in the Irish whiskey segment.

"We couldn't be more pleased to have Kieran and his fast-growing 2 Gingers on board," Bauder said.

Beam, with its signature brands of Jim Beam and Maker's Mark bourbons and Canadian Club whiskey, had sales of $2.8 billion in 2011.

But 2 Gingers, named after Folliard's red-haired mother and aunt, has a long row to hoe in order to catch up with the leading Irish whiskey brands.

"Jameson is still the horse, and Bushmills is next," said Christopher Huber, a buyer and manager for Sorella Wine & Spirits in Minneapolis.

Folliard sold his pubs -- the Local, Kieran's, the Liffey and Cooper Pub -- in 2011 because of a state law that prohibits a distiller from owning restaurants.

Folliard said Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing liquor category in the United States, with 2 Gingers being the fastest-growing in Minnesota. He acknowledged, however, that the base of Irish whiskey sales accounts for just 2 percent of all liquor purchases across the country.

With 2,100 accounts for 2 Gingers across the state with liquor stores, bars and restaurants, Folliard said he and his team of seven will remain working together on marketing and sales of 2 Gingers.

"I don't want to relinquish my responsibility for 2 Gingers. Not enough of the story has been told yet," Folliard said.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269