Last week saw the next step in the revival of a great name from Irish whiskey as the new Roe & Co distillery opened in Dublin. Our in-house bartender Nate Brown paid a visit, tried the new make, and spoke with Diageo master blender Caroline Martin from Diageo.
Some two and a half years after the release of the whiskey, Diageo launched the Roe & Co distillery in the Liberties area of the city. The distillery is the fourth whiskey producer to open in the area, further adding to the rebirth of the distilling heritage of Dublin 8. In the 1800s, George Roe & Co distillery was one of the big players in the Irish whiskey scene, with the distillery occupying some 17 acres, and home to nine massive stills making the traditional Irish Pot Still style of spirit. The whiskey crash of the early twentieth century called time on the brand, as it did on so many. Today, all that remains from the original company is a copper-domed tower, from which the Roe & Co bottle draws inspiration, and a centuries-old pear tree, which, appropriately, still bears fruit.
The new Roe & Co is situated in the red brick 1930s power station that had previously powered the Guinness storehouse next door. Speaking of which, the Guinness plant is Europe’s most visited tourist attraction, and the folks at Roe & Co are hoping to capitalise on the trade. As part of the tour, visitors will be treated to a Highball cocktail experience, with the opportunity to mix their own drink using whiskey, a cordial of their choosing and lengthened with soda. At the end of the tour, guests can enjoy a drink in the lavish Power House bar. The emphasis throughout is on how to enjoy Roe & Co, not just how it will be made, which is a welcome sign of where the whiskey market is moving. The appeal is clearly to a younger, trendy crowd, and a step away from the more traditional Scotch distilleries in Diageo’s portfolio. Much of the design work was done by Drinksology, whose contemporary stamp is all over the distillery, from a mind-map made from copper wire, to the stylish cocktail menu in the bar.
The three pot stills are visible from the street thanks to an enormous glass-panelled window. These will be used to create the triple-distilled malt, and are named Vision (a 14,000 litre wash still), Virtue (a 6,600 litre ex-Tanqueray still) and Valour (3,300 litre spirit still). They are accompanied by a three tonne mash tun and six wooden washbacks.
Refreshingly, Roe & Co does not shy away from the fact that its current bottling is not distilled at the new distillery. Instead, the focus is on the art of blending, as executed by superstar master blender, Caroline Martin. Martin has worked on Johnnie Walker, Bell’s and a host of other blends in her 33 year Diageo career. “A big factor [on creating the blend] was the need for a depth of flavour. I wanted something robust, that could stand up in cocktails,” says Martin. Throughout the development process, she consulted with Irish bartenders on what they wanted to see. One such change was the increased ABV to 45%. “We wanted transparency from the start, with no nasty surprises,” she says of the ethos.
Indeed, Martin sent various samples to the helping bartenders, and it was version 106 that scored the highest. This commitment to developing the liquid has been honoured in a blending room called Room 106, where guests will be able to explore the art of blending and bring a blend of their making home. As a way of thanking the bartender crowd, and as an homage to the whole of Ireland, Roe & Co have released an Ireland-only blend, with the ratios of malt to grain reversed. This malt-heavy spirit is aged in a combination of Port and bourbon barrels, and is to be the first in a long line of limited release expressions.
As for the regular liquid, we tried the new make and true to the brand’s history, it is jam-packed with pear notes. Powerful fruit flavour, already synonymous with Irish Whiskey, is certainly the goal. Currently, the new make liquid is laying in cask awaiting the first release of Roe & Co distilled at the new Dublin site. In the future, it’ll be up to Martin to blend the final product to match today’s releases, although she certainly has all the right ingredients to hand.