Over the past number of years, Irish whiskey has seen revivals of old brands with which the whiskey buyer of a centuries ago would have been familiar.
Brands returning to life include Dunvilles, Old Comber, and Limavady Irish Whiskey, to name a few. Many of these labels have historic undertones to their origin stories. Rising from the ashes of an almost destroyed whiskey market in Ireland, their revival seeks to bring Irish whiskey back to when it stood as the worlds most renowned spirit.
It was only a matter of time before one of the powerhouses in the drinks industry joined this revival wave in Ireland. Roe & Co. has been brought to life once again by Diageo, owner of Guinness and a plethora of well-known Scotch whisky labels. It surprised me when looking into this brand that it’s Diageo’s only Irish whiskey. Diageo, having sold Bushmills in 2014 to Casa Cuervo, returned to Irish whiskey with the brand’s launch in 2017.
This is the first time Roe & Co. Irish whiskey has been covered here on Malt. The name Roe & Co. is steeped in a long history of distilling in Ireland. Per the company: In 1862 George and Henry Roe inherited their father’s whiskey distilling company. In 1889, Roe amalgamated with William Jameson of Marrowbone Lane and the Dublin Whiskey Distillery of James Road, with the new firm trading under the name of Dublin Whiskey Distillers (DWD). In 1890, the complex covered seventeen acres. At its height, the distillery had an output of two million gallons per year, the highest in Britain or Ireland.
“As neighbours for hundreds of years, George Roe & Co. and Guinness were the two biggest names at the heart of Dublin’s historic brewing and distilling quarter,” according to their site. The new distillery opened in 2019, located across from the Guinness Storehouse and Brewery in James Street. Diageo maintained this historical link in keeping these brands producing together so close in Dublin.
The Roe & Co. profile is described as “perfected by bartenders, for bartenders.” The brand is in the masterful hands of the dynamic duo of Caroline Martin and Lora Hemy. Head distiller Lora comes from an art background having studied the subject in college, followed by a master’s degree in distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh working for a variety of distilleries, both gin and whiskey. Keeper of the Quaich Caroline has been working with Diageo for over 33 years, mostly within their Scotch Whisky brands.
The whiskey was created in a collaborative effort between “elite” Dublin-based bartenders and master blender Caroline. It came as a surprise to me that the brand has released a cask strength single malt special release over the past couple of years, at the same time as they push for the cocktail/mixer mass market.
The unique bottling shape and design of Roe & Co. whiskies is a tribute to the pear tree situated at St Patrick’s Tower, in the Liberties area of Dublin. St. Patrick’s tower is an 18th century smock windmill, originally part of a distillery which established to the north of St James’s Gate. The teal colour is a tribute to the weathered copper of the tower’s cupola and a nod to design codes of Irish whiskeys in their heyday.
Onto the whiskey at hand: this Irish single malt has spent the entirety of its maturation in Port casks and comes in at 58% ABV. I’ve seen some Port finished Irish whiskey before, but nothing that’s been maturing totally in Port casks. Perhaps Diageo snagged a couple of casks while selling Bushmills that were laid down for the port element in Bushmills 16-year-old? It is sourced, so it’s a good assumption that the liquid hails from County Antrim. Bottles were priced at around £55-60, or €74 from Roe & Co. I think that’s a pretty decent price for a 13 year old cask strength Irish whiskey given the absolutely ridiculous prices Irish whiskies go for in today’s market. No mention of “no chill filtration” or “no colour added.”
Roe & Co. 13 Year Old Single Malt Cask Strength (2020 Edition) – Review
On the nose: Buttery and malty. It’s quite soft and rounded, very welcoming given its high ABV. Tonnes of butterscotch and red apples. Plums and berries! It’s very malty but not hot or intense at all. Delicate floral element with that fruit sweetness. I can find a little hint of coconut lingering in the background married with some apricots too. Maltiness is met with some dusty wood. Pushing past that you are greeted with some orange rind, cinnamon spice, and some black tea.
It’s a high ABV, so let’s add some water and see what happens?
A brighter blast with more sweetness and floral notes, maybe a little lavender. I get some powdered sugar that wasn’t there before. That would be the only real element of change with around 5ml of water added.
In the mouth: Liquorice and a touch of mint. It’s hot on arrival, and a touch intense. I wasn’t expecting that given the lovely nose. It’s quite delicious with really thick toffee sauce coating the entirety of my tongue. That butter and sweetness comes through from the nose. A little peppery on the back end with more sweetness. It would remind you of a mixture of brown sugar, treacle, and cinnamon spice. If someone gave you some warm gingerbread dough that wasn’t baked fully… think of that.
With water added it become a little creamier, with a touch of chocolate. Dark fruits and sultanas. It’s much better and a bit more approachable with the water added. Everything remains like before with the water added which is a good thing. It just rounds off in a nice way.
Quite a lovely lingering sweetness sticks around on this pour, which I’m really enjoying. I like a good port finish on a whiskey, especially Irish whiskey. This was a good dram; you’re getting to experience 13-year-old cask strength single malt from the North of Ireland for a very good price. Not your typical Irish whiskey experience, but a good one.
Photo courtesy of Roe & Co.
I’ve been a little hesitant to dive into too much Irish but this expression sounds good. Part of the reason is availability where I live. Another reason is the similarities to Bourbon. As in all the sourcing and brand revivals that inherit the back stories which while nice is just marketing blurb for selling you sourced whiskey at inflated prices.
Like bourbon? I really don’t think so.
Many thanks for your comment.
It can be hard to pick out some Irish whiskey expressions these days that will be uniquely different than the overwhelming variety available today. Like I’ve mentioned, this being a 13 year old cask strength Irish single malt at £50-55 was great value and I think warranted a review and some exposure. And I like that Roe and Co have yearly special releases that seem to come in at cask strength. Like yourself, I find myself not knowing where to begin when it comes to Bourbons or American Single Malts given the amount of craft distillers, or those sourcing from the likes of MGP.
Thanks Ryan, nice intro and review. Just a thought – would have been interesting to squeeze in a review of the standard bottling Roe & Co also, seeing as this is the first time the brand has been covered on Malt. What do you think?
Thanks for you comment, I’m glad you liked the review.
I’m always in favour of comparing various expressions of a particular brand/distillery. The standard blended bottling comes in at £32.50. Given what i’m enjoying right now and hunting for more value for money, I’m not going to hand over that amount for a blended Irish whiskey. And I don’t know anyone who could have handed me a sample. Irish whiskey already has a plethora of new brands that source from the same 3 locations in Ireland, and produce bottles such as this, at inflated prices.
This special release for 2020 caught my eye, as you rarely see a cask strength single malt Irish whiskey priced at £50-55.
It also leaves the standard blend to be reviewed by another Malt contributor. More content for us all to enjoy some time in the future and hopefully not the last time we see Roe & Co reviewed here on Malt.