Back in the 1800’s and until the middle of the 1900’s, Ireland was the biggest producer of whisk(e)y in the world. Its whiskey industry then experienced a massive setback in the noughties with only three distilleries left on the Emerald island. It is now making a strong comeback with new producers that are reshaping the position of Irish whiskey on the global spirits map. Launched in March 2017, Roe & Co is one of them.
“Three years ago, Irish whiskey was on the rise and Diageo sold Bushmills. The group saw a big opportunity for Irish whiskey and I was asked to help develop a new brand”, Peter O’Connor, European Brand Ambassador for Roe & Co, explained at a tasting in Geneva last November. A unique opportunity for the previous bartender and specialist on whiskey education which he is obviously proud of sharing. “I was part of every part of the journey, including the bottling and labeling parts. I was told I would be very proud at three moments: when we’d bottle the finished product, when I’d see orders coming in and when I’d see bartenders use our product.”
In a nod to Irish whiskey’s heyday, Roe & Co is named after George Roe, owner of the Thomas Street (George Roe) Distillery, the biggest Irish distillery in the 19th century. The defunct distillery is located across the street from St. James Gate (home of Guinness) in Dublin. Peter and the rest of the Roe & Co team researched the history from the old distillery which gave them a lot of insight to launch their new whiskey. In addition to that, they also looked at whiskies from different countries and noticed the success of premium whiskies, mostly from classic brands.
These observations led them to Roe & Co’s first prototypes. Unfortunately,”they were very traditional, not what we wanted to do. We had to be bolder, different”, Peter reminisced. In this pursuit, he and his team decided to tap into cocktail culture. Instead of starting with ingredients and then pushing their spirit to bars, they went after bartenders to integrate them into their brand and spirit creation process.
Peter brought five bartenders from Dublin into the project: Michael Foggarty from Mulligan’s, Ken Herlihy from House Dublin, Gareth Lambe from Vintage Cocktail Club, Paul Lambert from The Blind Pig and Anna Walsh from MVP. “Involving these experts who use whiskey every day into our development process gave us massive insight. Our objective was to create a smooth Irish whiskey that guests and bartenders could enjoy in drinks.”
After repeated trials and errors, prototype 106 was a winner! “I kept sending back prototypes to Caroline, our master distiller. She probably hated me at some point”, Peter chuckled.
Original fact about Roe & Co: the prototype blends were made from whiskies made and aged in Ireland but mixed together in a lab in Scotland. Blends are now entirely prepared and bottled in Ireland.
The result is a “creamy” blend of Irish malt and grain whiskies with smokey, woody notes and hints of vanilla, pear, pepper and caramel. It is aged for five years in bourbon casks and has a 45% ABV. Developed for cocktails, the whiskey can also be appreciated neat or on the rocks.
Roe & Co’s bottles are another nod to the Golden Age of Irish whiskey and to the Irish people. The round central label with the brand name represents a pear tree dating from 1856. It is the oldest fruit tree known in Ireland and the last remains of the old George Roe distillery. There a subtle notes of pear in the spirit. The other label with the batch, ABV and other information on depicts the windmill of the George Roe distillery. Its off center position evokes the Irish people because “we are a little different”, Peter smiled. Its teal colour is the colour the copper windmill turned with time.
The involvement of bartenders didn’t stop at their contribution to Roe & Co’s recipe. They also help promote the brand by creating special cocktails with its whiskey. Roe & Co then publishes their pictures on its social media platforms. “Instead of giving recipes to bartenders, we let them create recipes themselves. I tell them we need new material for social media. In exchange, I will help them get the glassware or any other type of vessel they want. So far, it’s resulted in chalices, smoking tiki boxes, punch bowls and wooden rocks glasses “, Peter revealed.
In 2019, Roe & Co will start production in Ireland when it opens its single malt distillery on the site of the old Guinness Powerhouse in Dublin. Again bartenders are part of the adventure: three of them have helped design the future distillery’s bar ! Roe & Co intends to produce its first single malt by 2022. So far, the brand is present in 16 markets throughout Europe. No doubt it will expand its global presence in the years to come.