A whiskey weekend before the storm: Teeling & Roe & Co.
TL;DR: In January 2020, we visited friends in Dublin, so why not check out a couple of distilleries in the meanwhile? We chose two among the many newbies, Teeling, in the Liberties neighbourhood, and Roe & Co, a new Diageo distillery close to the iconic Guinness brewery!
In our blog, so far, we talked about our whisk(e)y adventures in Kentucky, England, Canada and, of course, Scotland. You might have noticed an important gap, which is the object of this and the next blog post: Ireland!
Gianluigi had actually visited Ireland, mostly Dublin, a few times way before his whisky journey started, while for Teresa the first time came when we went there to celebrate 2019 New Year with two friends from the US. At that point, we were already into whiskey (and whisky), but in our heads Dublin = Jameson, so that’s what we went for: the Jameson Experience in Bow Street, where the old distillery was. It was a nice experience for newbies, and it was very interesting to compare scotch (Johnnie Walker), American (Jack Daniels…) and Irish whiskey (Jameson, of course). For sure, at the time we were not aware of the troubled history of Irish whiskey: after the trade block with the Commonwealth countries as a consequence of the Irish Independence war, and prohibition in the USA, Irish whiskey saw a decline which led the biggest producers (Powers, Cork Distillers and Jameson) to join forces and form the Irish Distillers company, while moving production to the New Middleton distillery, in Cork, in 1971. For many years, only two distilleries were active in Ireland: the aforementioned Middleton and Bushmills, in Ulster.
Recent years saw a renaissance of Irish whiskey, however. First, in 1987, John Teeling acquired and converted an old potato processing plant into the third Irish working distillery: Cooley. More recently, a number of distilleries throughout the island popped up, including a handful in Dublin.
It is in this context that we started to sniff around. The occasion was a weekend at the end of January 2020, when Covid was already a thing but hopes were that, like the SARS-CoV-1 in 2003, it would have been a limited outbreak…so naïve! We went back to Dublin to visit a friend of Gianluigi who was working at the UCD, and a former Teresa’s advisor from New Zealand. When we looked at the available tours we spotted four distilleries: the Liberties, Pearse Lyons, Roe & Co. and Teeling. Being unfamiliar with all of these brands, we chose the latter two, almost randomly.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, when we arrived in the Liberties, a former industrial neighbourhood. This is home to both the Liberties (more on this next week) and Teeling distilleries. The latter was founded in 2015 by Jack and Stephen Teeling, the sons of the founder of Cooley, now owner of the Great Northern Distillery, in County Louth, the former Harp beer brewery converted into a distillery in 2015. In hindsight, visiting Teeling first made sense as it is the first new whiskey distillery in Dublin in over 100 years, and the first operating since Jameson and Powers moved to Cork.
The building is quite modern, and it’s obvious that they built the distillery with tourists in mind: everything is spacious and feels ready to accommodate big groups. They are quite a sizeable distillery too, with half-million litres of alcohol per annum. They produce many different styles of whiskey: single grain, single malt, single pot still and the typical Irish unaged spirits (Poitin), all bottled at 46%, except the latter which goes up to around 50-52%. Their main expression Is the Small Batch, made with malt and grain whisky. The tour was nice, nothing particular to note, except that the three stills (most Irish whiskeys are tripled distilled) come from an Italian firm, Frilli, and they are named after the owners’ daughters (which now we cannot recall…it was 3 years ago!). The tour ended with a visit to the on-site warehouse, where some of the first casks filled are stored.
After the tour, we got a 4-dram tasting: the Small Batch, the Single Malt, the Single Pot-still and a distillery exclusive. It was very interesting to try them all together, a comparison between very different styles of whiskey! At the bar, we also tried one of their special releases of the time, the Brabazon vol. 2, a sourced whiskey finished in ex-Port cask and bottled at 49.5% abv, very different from the others!
The following day, much cloudier, was Roe & Co’s turn, very close to the Guinness St James Gate Brewery. The name is inspired by George Roe & Co, the owner of the old Thomas Street Distillery. This used to be a massive distillery around the late 1800s, just a stone throw away from the brewery, with over 2 million gallons of single pot still whiskey produced per year. It was closed in 1926, following the aforementioned crisis of Irish whiskey. The new Roe & Co distillery was built by Diageo in the old brewery powerhouse, and started producing in 2019. It is a very beautiful old industrial brick building, with big windows that make it possible to see the still room from outside. Next to the building, there is a tower with a green dome and a pear tree (which inspired the distillery’s logo).
Production is characterised by a closed mash-tun with a copper lid, a few (we cannot remember how many) wooden washbacks, and three stills of different shapes. Again, this distillery too has been clearly built with visitors in mind, so the spaces are quite open, and the bar is near the still room. After visiting the production, the guide brought us to a fancy showroom with a big table, where there was a wooden box for each of us. Inside the box, a few aromas and other stuff for a sort of sensorial experience (honestly, the least favourite part of the tour).
Afterwards, we went to a blending room, where the guide gave us a brief but informative introduction to mixology before we mixed our own cocktails. While we are far from being whisk(e)y purists (once in a while we like a good whisk(e)y-based cocktail), we’re not big fans of this “whisk(e)y as a mixer” thing that has been pushed so much by big companies like Diageo. However, we have to say that this experience was really interesting, definitely a plus of this tour.
Finally, at the bar we had a sip of the Roe & Co whiskey, a blend made with malt and grain whiskeys from undisclosed Irish distilleries: a nice dram (45%, not-chill filtered, NAS). We also tried an ex-Port cask finished Roe & Co, another blend (if we recall correctly), a bit more robust, but we couldn’t get it because we had no checked luggage. Oh well.
We felt this trip to Dublin was just a first, tiny taste of the Irish whiskey wolrd, and indeed we were left more curious than when we had arrived. Since then, we have tried some very interesting expressions, and it’s nice to see the Irish whiskey scene being revamped. For more about this, stay tuned until next week, Sláinte!
Jameson Bow St. Whiskey Experience
Roe & Co. Distillery