Interview: Roe & Co’s Lora Hemy Talks Making Irish Whiskey In Guinness’ Shadow

| March 17, 2022

In the resurgence of Irish whiskey, Roe & Co is a new, contemporary blend inspired by history and tradition.

In fact, its inspiration was the once world-famous George Roe & Co Distillery in Dublin. As neighbors for hundreds of years, George Roe & Co and Guinness were among the biggest names at the heart of Dublin’s historic brewing and distilling quarter.

Now, decades after the Roe distillery closed its gates, Irish whiskey finds itself in another golden age. By restoring and re-purposing the iconic Guinness Power House as its distillery, the new Roe & Co is helping to regenerate Dublin’s Liberties district, the home of Irish whiskey during the original golden age of Irish distilling.

Lora Hemy, head distiller of Roe & Co, is helping to usher in that golden age, using her creative background that’s led her to combine interests in flavor, aroma, sensory perception and distilled beverages to the betterment of the whiskey industry.

An alumni of the prestigious Heriot-Watt University, she now finds herself as a distiller and product development specialist with a focus on innovation. Lora has spent time working and researching in several countries and is putting her skill set to work at the Roe & Co Distillery day in and day out.

The Whiskey Wash recently caught up with the busy distiller to find out more about her, about Roe & Co, and where the Irish whiskey industry is at this moment in time.

Roe & Co

The Roe & Co distillery (image via Diageo)

The Whiskey Wash: Has there been a resurgence in Irish whiskey and the demand for more product from whiskey enthusiasts?

Lora Hemy: “I think Irish whiskey is in a really exciting place because obviously there’s a lot of new distilleries to the market. And from an enthusiast perspective, which I always described myself as first and foremost before ever being a distiller, somebody that loves whiskey, I say that’s a really exciting place to be. There are all sorts of things happening distilleries large and small throughout the island of Ireland, and that can’t be anything other than really exciting for everybody who enjoys Irish whiskey.

TWW: Who do you see discovering Irish whiskey, and bringing up the demand for the spirit?

Lora: “So I think Irish whiskey will appeal to so many people. It will appeal to people that already love whiskey and already know it, but it will also appeal to people that might be new to whiskey and might be curious about flavor. And that’s certainly what we try to do at Rowanco. We try to create amazing flavor experiences in our whiskies that you’re going to want to enjoy again and again.

TWW: Tell us a bit about Roe & Co.’s Dublin history and how the distillery has changed over the years.

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Lora: “So we’re a very new distillery. We started building our distillery in 2018 in the old Guinness Power House at the St. James’s Gate Brewery. There’s such a huge amount of brewing heritage on the site. The power station was built in the 1940s. It was decommissioned and basically completely remodeled the inside to house a distillery. Now, we’re fairly new to production. Our first batch was in May of 2019.

So we’re actually at the three year mark, about six weeks from having our first distillery lay down mature stocks, which is a very, very exciting place to be. And lots of exciting things are happening all the time. We make the malt component for the rolling coat blend of the future. But we also lay down lots of different recipe projects for new and exciting Irish whiskeys of the future, too. We work with a range of different cereals, different yeast varieties, and different ways, different distillation methodologies. We’re basically creating a flavor inventory that we can then take and reassemble and remix, if you like, into new whiskies in the future. So it’s about creating that flavor inventory that we’re going to be able to do very cool things with in years to come.”

TWW: How did you get into the whisky business?

Lora: “I took a very long route into the whiskey business. I didn’t plan to be in the whisky business at all. I actually went to art school in my 20s. I wanted to be a painter. And when I was at art school, I realized I was quite bored of two dimensions quite quickly. And I wanted to make things that jumped out of the canvas.

I got very interested in perfumery and sensory environments and things that become three dimensional without necessarily having physical form. And when I realized that perfumery and whiskey were very connected, I got really interested, because suddenly this whole new world of flavor and aroma opened up, except it had all sorts of other objects and interesting elements to it.

Like, you can make something really beautiful that perhaps has a compound that might smell of a bonfire or the top of a creme brulee or a blowtorch or burning wellies, but somehow when you put them all together, they make something really delicious and beautiful that you can nose and sip, and it’s just going to be delicious.

So I got really fascinated in this idea. And after spending my 20s actually working as a sound engineer, I went back to school and studied brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, which at the time was one of the only places in the world where you could really do that.

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And I was very lucky. When I left Heriot-Watt, I was able to move into a lot of different projects in the industry at the time, which was growing. So I got to work on a lot of new build distillery projects, as well as putting together different recipes across gin, across whiskey, across ready to drink spirits, and really learn about what it takes to put together whiskies from a lot of different perspectives.

So that’s my background. And I joined this project and joined the distillery, really, when we were right at the start of the build project at the power station. So I’ve seen it grow up from a building site up to the working distillery. It is now with stock about to be about to be three years old. Awesome.”

TWW: Can you tell us a bit about your distilling ethos and what you find paramount in making whiskey?

Lora: “Yeah. So I think it’s very helpful making whiskey if you love whiskey yourself, because you’ll be very aware of the care that goes into every stage of producing it. I think my ethos is to pay attention to every detail at each production stage, because if we get the details right, we will absolutely deliver quality, and it has to be the total focus of everybody at the distillery to be able to get that 100 percent right.

We’re very, very fussy about raw materials, quality and the standard that they come in at. But we’re also really keen on fermentation and making sure that we set up the right flavor combinations and the compounds that will help us deliver those. If we don’t do that, you can’t capture them in the distillation stage. So it really is, for us, a very holistic process, and it’s one where we have to stay focused the entire time. As I mentioned before, it’s a very multisensory process.

When you’re in the distillery, you’re using all of your senses. When you’re making whiskey, you’re using your nose. Obviously, we’re always using our nose to figure out where we are in the process, at what stage we need to make cuts. Is the fermentation at the right stage to distill it? You can tell that by nosing it, but we also use our ears. And obviously our eyes and ears can tell you a lot about the way things are running and whether things are running smoothly in the right way. If you’re running the stills at the right pressure, whether things are behaving the way that you’re expecting them to behave or whether you might need to make adjustments. So it’s very much something that you become totally immersed in at a distillery. And it’s what I love about those environments. They really are completely multisensory.”

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TWW: And where will innovation take Irish whiskey in the coming years?

Lora: “Irish whiskey, the history of Irish whiskey is absolutely built on innovation. When we go back in time and look at some of the key moments, and not just the history of Irish whiskey, but things that have actually gone on to affect whiskey production globally, things like the coffee still, the triple distillation pot, still whiskey mash bills … all of these things were commercialized, fine tuned and developed in Ireland. So distillers on this island have been innovating for hundreds of years. There’s nothing new about that. And because of that, I think we have a very innovative attitude towards whiskey making in general. That is very evident from everything that you see happening in Irish whiskey today. Innovation will continue to be so important to how Irish whiskey grows in the future. And again, it allows us to offer lots of different flavor experiences to a wider audience. What I can tell you is that if you haven’t found a whiskey that you’ve fallen in love with, then I’d suggest trying Irish whiskey. And obviously, I’d suggest trying Roe & Co, because flavor and innovation are absolutely at the heart of what we do with Irish whiskey.

TWW: How has Roe & Co been a part of Dublin’s Liberties district?

Lora: “We are very much a part of the district, and you can’t miss us. The space is huge, and you can see us from all across town. We have a commanding position on James Street, and you can see us from all directions in Dublin really. It’s very important to us that we’re a community distillery and over the past couple of years, we’ve been able to offer local business and restaurants somewhere to work, especially during the pandemic, they’ve been able to serve customers. We are very much in tune with the local community, and that’s how we always wanted to be. It’s a space for anybody, our bar is always open, and we absolutely love showing people around. We run a whole range of tour experiences and our brilliant ambassador team will look after all our guests.”

TWW: What are some of the best cocktails to make with Roe & Co whiskey this St. Patrick’s Day?

Lora: “I like to have a go at an Irish coffee if you can, they are truly delicious. For me, that’s my go to St. Patrick’s cocktail. If you’d like something straight-up easy to make, a Roe Old Fashioned, very simple at home to make, not too many ingredients.”

Drinks

Gary Carter

Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether...