Welcome to the Hops & Spirits Q&A, where we ask five (or so) questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is on Josh Cameron, North American Brand Ambassador for Roe & Co Irish Whiskey. Roe & Co is a new contemporary blend named to honor the memory of a whiskey-maker whose distillery was in its time the largest in Ireland. George Roe & Co helped build the golden era of Irish whiskey in the 19th century.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into this industry?
I’ve been a lot of ways been a part of this industry my entire life. As a little kid, I worked in restaurants where my mother was a cook. And that was my first entry and I thought I was never going to do it again. I always said that but it ended up being a part of my life forever. So, I grew up in Pennsylvania. I was always very obsessed with farming culture, cornfields, with fishing, with rivers, those things. So, I think in a way that kind of has a root into getting into whiskey, and then I came to New York for acting and music, and also I became a bartender at that time.
I was always very attached to whiskey. I was always in love with it, and I didn’t know anything so I was always studying and learning. I was that eager new guy, and a lot of great bartenders, I would go after my shift and sit down and they would take out whiskies on the bar and just walk me through them. Then, I started getting obsessed with the books and the community. I started making cocktail menus. And that was because I wanted to make cocktails that connect with people. I wasn’t trying to be a mixologist, but I was just trying to make cocktails that connect. Also, I was trying to get better jobs so these were things that were necessary for me. Those things kind of merged to one, and I got a chance to go to Kentucky. I fell in love with Kentucky and all the poetry of it. And that was a very big turning point for me, and I just fell even in deeper love with whiskey and it became a major part of my life.
1) For those unfamiliar with Roe & Co, can you give a history of it?
Speaking of the name, we are named after a man named George Roe. Even in my time growing and reading, I never knew a lot about George Roe. It turns out he was one of the premier distillers in the world. So there was a golden triangle in Ireland and he’s at the top of it. In Dublin, he has the largest distillery in the world for about 200 years. His grandfather Peter Roe started it, and then by the late 19th century, they’re the number one distillers and they export two million gallons a year.
And then as you know, Irish Whiskey takes a major hit with trade embargoes, the Irish rebellion, the refusal to change out of the pot still and go to the column still that was on the rise in Scotland. Then, of course, prohibition which is the final nail in the coffin. So, from about 1926 when George Roe’s distillery closed, for next hundred years, there’s only about three distilleries in Ireland. It’s pretty wild, because that was the original birthplace of what we know is whiskey today.
And for about 100 years, it’s dormant. Then our master blender Caroline Martin, she’s a 35-year master blende and she decided to make a whiskey that is a premium sipper, but it’s also a premium cocktail whiskey. And then the third part of it, that makes it may be tough, is that it’s also Irish. So she collaborated with bartenders to make and define this perfect blend. They actually made 120 blends. But what they wanted with this one to be a premium sipper and also a premium cocktail whiskey, they had to do different things. So these five bartender she collaborates with, they actually encouraged her to raise the proof from the traditional 40% of Irish Whiskey to 45, and to use non-chill filtration in this blend, which is so magic because it coats the palate, it gives a creamy viscosity, but it also activates whenever you drop some water in it, or when you shake it with a cocktail. So more flavor actually comes out, and scientifically, it’s able to do more for a cocktail than 98% of whiskies well.
2) How does today’s Roe & Co Whiskey compare to the previous version?
There’s history mixed in, in that we still traditionally use the three copper stills. We’re on the same plot of land. George Roe’s grandfather planted a pear tree which is still on the plot of land in Ireland, which is right across from the Guinness Brewery. We build a state of the art distillery on his old plot of land. It’s still Irish as we have those was Irish grains and Irish barleys. But I would say, maybe in poetry, it’s not as fun, but thankfully, it isn’t the old whiskey. Those older whiskeys were harsh and they were unrefined. This is a very innovative new whiskey that is made to do things other whiskies haven’t done.
3) Why is whiskey a great choice for a holiday party?
I happen to be biased, but I think it’s the best gift. I mean our bottle, especially, is a great gift because we put the whole story into the bottle. I think that just goes to show that every detail of this whiskey from grains to the glass to the bottling process is for a reason. It’s also a bottle you look at you ask, ‘Hey, what is that. It’s beautiful, do I want to keep that on my shelf. Yes.’ I think whiskey is a great gift because so many different kinds of people can come together over whiskey, everyone can come together. What’s great about our whiskey is it is 45%, so it’s stronger than a lot of traditional Irish whiskeys, but with that non-chill filtration, with that triple distillation in the copper stills, it’s going to be creamier and gentler than a lot of other 45% whiskies. So, while the cask strength drinker is also going to love it, the, maybe new to whiskey drinker, it is also going to be palatable and exciting for them.
4) What about cocktails and creations for the holidays?
One of my favorite things is making a drink for friends, and especially, my non-bartender friends, because you know not everyone has this access to whiskey and this information. Whiskey drinks that I’ve made that are more batchable for my friends — pretty much anything with cider. Traditional Irish Whiskey has those orchard fruit notes, but because of our copper still and of our non-chill filtration together, it lends more to a little bit of a pear note. We’ve embraced that pear tree and that story. It’s also in the liquid which is great. I love it within a cider cocktail, if I’m going to be at home for the holidays. I’ve actually mixed it with some chia blends and that’s been excellent.
Of course, at home with the holidays, an old fashioned. A lot of whiskeys are going to be delicious on their own, but the second you add water or anything to them, they might not hold up and they might not have that same or exciting new character come out of them. What is great about Roe & Co is you want to taste the whiskey. It’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels, so we’re going to get those notes from bourbon. Those vanilla and oak notes, gentle cinnamon. If you are a fancy home bartender who spent the entire lockdown learning cocktails, maybe you make a Sazerac.
4b) With how this was blended and working with those bartenders, it seems this is a very versatile whiskey.
I think that’s the best thing about this whiskey. So, I personally, I’m a whiskey lover who always was drawn towards bourbon and rye, because of the versatility there. This is the first Irish Whiskey I’ve ever seen that has this kind of versatility, this mixability and the ability to also extremely well stand up on its own. So your friends who want to have that neat drink, your friends who want to have it on the rocks, it’s going to be incredible because of the way it opens up on the palette. But also, it’s going to be mixable in so many ways. I mean, a sour is a great cocktail to make.
I talk about the Gold Rush pretty often. It’s a simple modern classic, but it works so well because that non-chill filtration leaves in some proteins at the molecular level. In the past, they wanted to get rid of that, but right now, those are great details that can open up more in the cocktail. They’ll actually have tiny little explosions. It’s kind of like when you drop water in your whiskey and you see a little bit of clouds come up. Those are actually flavor explosions. So if you are shaking it in a cocktail, even if it doesn’t have the egg whites, it’s going to have a froth as though it almost does.
5) What’s next for Roe & Co?
What’s exciting is that we are so new. We’re not even in the entire country yet. We just launched in California in October. But what’s so good about Roe & Co. is these new collaborations. The whole brand is built around collaborating and doing things together. It’s what chefs can we pair with, what bartenders can we work together with, because this is one of the first whiskies that I’ve ever seen embrace we over me. And that’s what’s next, and also what’s now and that’s what’s so exciting about Roe & Co.
What’s amazing and exciting about Roe & Co is, yes, we’re inspired by those old stories, but we are new and being innovated and created right now. Our head distiller Lora Hemy is constantly innovating and constantly trying new blends. She’s trying new ways with different woods to see how they age. I can’t give you an answer on when those will be ready, but we have many different whiskeys and expressions in the pipeline. Right now, what’s next is getting this everywhere in the country. We’re in the northeast right now and we’re in California, so I can’t wait to get it everywhere. My family is from Pennsylvania, and it’s not in Pennsylvania yet. So, so those things are exciting.
Find our more about Roe & Co by visiting their website: https://www.roeandcowhiskey.com/.