Arguably, you could say that Diageo unloaded their most prominent Irish whiskey holding, Bushmills, onto Jose Cuervo at a particularly unfortunate time in 2014. The brown liquor revival had been underway for quite a long while, but the last few years have been kind to Irish whiskey in particular. As the American drinker reaches the logical endpoints of their initial forays into bourbon and rye, the worlds of Irish and Scotch whiskey beckon—new vistas to explore and obsess over.
Diageo certainly seemed to think so, and they didn’t let themselves be without an Irish whiskey brand for too long. In 2017, the global alcohol powerhouse launched Roe & Co. Irish Whiskey in Europe, but the brand has been a bit slower in crossing the pond. Now, in 2019 it seems they have the U.S. squarely in their sights. Roe & Co. has been making its landfall in American bars and package stores, with the full marketing weight of Diageo behind it. And so, it’s clearly time for the all-important taste test.
In construction, Roe & Co. seems both familiar and subtly different. Like most Irish whiskeys on American shelves, this is a blend of malt and grain whiskeys, although it makes a point of stating that most of the whiskeys are coming from first-fill bourbon barrels, and its non chill-filtered nature isn’t common in this segment. Additionally, the 90 proof (45% ABV) is higher than the majority of Irish blends you see on the shelves. This higher proof, and the non-chill filtered nature of the product, serve as the primary justification for a higher price point ($35-40 per 750 ml bottle) than most of the other Irish blends Roe & Co. would be competing against.
Diageo claims that this product represents a profile that is “perfected by bartenders, for bartenders,” being a collaboration between the company’s Master Blender Caroline Martin and “five elite Dublin-based bartenders who together crafted a unique Irish whiskey blend that would hold its own in cocktails.”
On the nose, it’s immediately pretty clear that this whiskey exists in a higher ABV tier than most of the classic Irish blends. The ethanol is a bit on the aggressive side, carrying a medicinal quality that somewhat mars some delicate fruit notes of pear, apple and caramel. It’s not the most expressive nose, which unfortunately makes the harsher side of its alcohol presence stand out all the more. Over time, this mellows a tad, allowing some subtle grassiness to come forward.
On the palate, I again unfortunately get a dose of medicinal booziness up front, which is a shame. There are some interesting things going on here—flavor combinations that you don’t often see in conjunction with one another. Pear and apple fruitiness are delicate and ephemeral, in part because this whiskey is fairly dry for the style. It’s missing some of the richer maltiness you might expect from a single/all-malt whiskey—but in its place, you instead get more caramelization and “char” character than one might expect, presumably from the still-fresh, first-fill bourbon barrels. The combination of pear fruitiness with charred oak and spice might be a promising one, but it’s marred by the sense of raw ethanol working against it. Still, this is interesting, as a bourbon-influenced Irish whiskey.
Ultimately, at its $35-40 price point, Roe & Co. is staking a claim as a mid-shelf, more premium example of blended Irish whiskey, but in that range you’d hope for a bit more composure as far as the incorporation of ethanol is concerned. When the likes of Bushmills are still hovering around $20, and you have brands such as Writer’s Tears or Green Spot in the same $40-ish range, it feels like Roe & Co. may be entering a tough playing field.
City: Dublin, Ireland
Style: Blended Irish whiskey
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $35-40 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.