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Diageo returns to Irish whiskey category

Two years after selling Bushmills, Diageo has re-entered the Irish whiskey category with plans for a new €25 million (US$26.7m) distillery in Dublin and the launch of the Roe & Co brand.

Diageo has re-entered the Irish whiskey category with blended whiskey brand Roe & Co

The brand pays homage to George Roe, who is credited with building the golden era of Irish whiskey in the 19th century. Located in Dublin’s brewing and distilling quarter The Liberties, his 17-acre distillery George Roe and Co was once Ireland’s “largest” distillery, neighbouring Diageo’s Irish dry stout brand, Guinness.

Subject to planning approval, Diageo intends to build on this history by converting the former Guinness Power House on Thomas Street into St. James’s Gate distillery, with production beginning “in the first half of 2019”. The total project investment comes to €25m over three years.

Colin O’Brien, operations director of Diageo, said: “The planned distillery will provide employment in the coming years – both at construction and operation stages. It will complement what is already the country’s most popular tourism offering, The Guinness Storehouse.

“This investment further demonstrates Diageo’s commitment to the growing vibrancy of The Liberties, one of the city’s most dynamic districts and the home of Irish whiskey during the original golden age of Irish distilling.”

Created by Diageo’s master blender Caroline Martin and her team – who trialled more than 100 prototype blends since December 2014 – Roe & Co combines hand-selected stocks of Irish malt and grain whiskies, aged in Bourbon casks. The group has not yet disclosed which distillery provided stocks for the blend.

According to Diageo, the high proportion of first-fill casks results in a flavour profile of “creamy vanilla, balanced with its hints of fruit and soft spice and a remarkable depth”.

Non-chill filtered and bottled at 45% abv, the first blend of Roe and Co is slated to hit key European cities from 1 March 2017, as part of Diageo’s Reserve portfolio. By launching the brand, Diageo aims to make Irish whiskey “more prominent” in the region’s “booming” cocktail culture.

“In crafting Roe & Co we explored the demands of today’s consumers for more premium drinking experiences and the desire of bartenders for an adaptable, flavourful whiskey that works in both traditional and new cocktails,” said Tanya Clarke, general manager of Diageo Reserve Europe.

Exports of Irish whiskey increased by an estimated 8% in 2016 to €505 million (US$537m) and are on track to double by 2020, according to a report by  Irish food board Bord Bia.

“Irish Whiskey is experiencing a renaissance and is truly an Irish success story,” said Ireland’s minister for agriculture, food and the marine, Michael Creed.

“It is seeing a return to the success it experienced in its golden era in the 19th Century and is now the fastest growing spirit drink in the world with global sales increasing by over 300% and record exports of over €400 million in the last 10 years.”

Minister for jobs, enterprise and Innovations, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, added: “It is great to see Diageo continue to invest in and further enhance the historical Dublin 8 area to create a fantastic attraction for tourists and locals alike. The proposed distillery will play a major role in the overall regeneration of the Liberties through the repurposing of the St James’ Gate Power House.”

In November 2014, Diageo agreed to give its Bushmills Irish whiskey to Jose Cuervo in return for full ownership of Don Julio Tequila, thus exiting the Irish whiskey category.

The British drinks group struck a deal with the Tequila maker that allowed it acquire the remaining 50% of Don Julio it did not already own. The deal also included the early termination of Cuervo’s production and distribution of Smirnoff in Mexico, and a lump sum of US$408m.

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