This is the first in a three-part series looking at Roe & Co. The history, the brand, the future and the Dublin cocktail scene, presented by Roe & Co
This article is all about the creation of the Roe & Co brand; How it came about and the detail that went into the blend’s recipe.
I recently got to speak with Roe & Co Brand Ambassador, Peter O’Connor, who has worked at Diageo for a decade, including a stint as Master of Whisky in the US. He was part of the four-person team who were tasked with creating a brand and a new premium Irish whiskey.
Interestingly, work started on the Roe & Co brand around six months after Bushmills was sold.
The first thing was to look at what Irish whiskey is and what the opportunity with consumers was… Irish, Japanese, Scotch, American and Canadian were all studied to see their strengths and weaknesses. They soon realised that most Irish whiskey retails for between €22 and €35. The current market, as we all know, is dominated by Tullamore D. E. W., Jameson, and Bushmills.
With that in mind, the opportunity they saw was to go after the 6% of the market in the premium section that could be enjoyed neat and mixed in cocktails. Main competitors at that level being Teeling, who arguably drove the sector, and Midleton’s Method and Madness range.
Roe & Co did exactly as I would have done if I was tasked with such a great brief; they bought as many of the different styles of Irish whiskey, around fifteen to twenty bottles to get them together, to understand what the brands represent, what their flavour profile was all about. Roe & Co made an interesting discovery when looking at the bottles all lined up; they all had a classic Irish feel to them with maps of Ireland, muted colours, naming included terms like ‘The Irishman’.
“We wanted to be different”, Peter told me, “we wanted to be about community; both with consumers, and to be engaged with the cocktail culture and cocktail bars around the world. The challenge was to create a whiskey that stood up in Whiskey Sours, a Manhattan or other classic cocktails. Currently, many Irish whiskeys are not great when you add mixers and the spirit just does not hold up so we wanted to do something different”.
With all these learnings, Roe & Co set about creating their new brand.
Over the next ten months Caroline Martin, a veteran whisky/whiskey blender with thirty years experience, created pilot and prototype blends for the team to try and to feedback on. After a few months, it was proving difficult so Peter used his contacts in America to try the samples and feedback.
Figuring that it was going to be a useful endeavour to engage with the bartender community on a deeper level, the team pitched Diageo to bring five bartenders in to the project, this was initially rejected due to the sensitivity of the project, but they eventually relented when they saw the value in their input and brought these five bartenders in to try the product, give their honest opinion, to use it in drinks and to be brutally honest.
These bartenders were not told anything about what was being created at all, just that it was Whiskey X. This helped the experts who will be using it in their bars to make a whiskey that they would actually want to use.
Initially, the blend included the three traditional styles of Irish whiskey; pot still, single malt and grain. With feedback and development, Caroline decided to take the pot still component out of the blend as it was not working. After more trials, single malt and grain whiskey were put into first fill bourbon casks.
At prototype 70 they realised that the liquid was great, but did not stand up to mixers used in bars. Roe & Co upped the ABV to 43%, and Prototype 106 nailed it with mouthfeel, ABV, mixology strategy. Incredible that they created 120 prototypes to get to the blend that they felt worked. An amazing amount of pride is evident when speaking to Peter about the process and the product they, as a team created, especially as all the markets that have the whiskey already are loving it and bartenders are using Roe & Co in interesting and fun ways so their work is clearly paying off.
In the next instalment, I will explain the history behind the Roe & Co name. The new distillery they are building and where the brand fits in the world of whiskey.
This series has been commissioned by Roe & Co, however, all opinions and views, as always, remain my own.