Talking Trade

A woman’s spirit

March hosts International Women’s Day and to mark the occasion Fionnuala Carolan spoke to one woman who is pioneering innovation in the whiskey industry. Roe and Co’s head distiller Lora Hemy speaks about her journey with Roe & Co and the many women in the drinks industry who inspire her every day

Located in the heart of Dublin 8, the Roe & Co Distillery, which opened in 2019, is a superb addition to this part of the city sitting across the street from its parent company, Diageo at St James Gate. Roe & Co is a contemporary Irish whiskey firmly positioned at the premium end of the whiskey category.
I’m speaking to Lora Hemy the morning after attending the launch of Roe & Co Solera Single Malt in Dublin’s Roe & Co Distillery where we were served sumptuous whiskey cocktails and delicious food from the head chef of Variety Jones restaurant, Keelan Higgs. It was a great night and a momentous one for Hemy who has just come to the end of a year-long construction project in the distillery and the launch of Solera. This also coincided with a long build project on her new home in Dublin 8. “The Solera project was quite a logistically challenging one,” explains Hemy “And then this week life events kind of coincided with important work events so it’s been a bit of a ride to keep the pace up,” she says.
It’s hard to tell because she oozes energy and enthusiasm and seems genuinely excited about the launch and really passionate about the Solera project. She came to Dublin nearly six years ago in order to develop the Roe & Co Distillery. At the time she was working for a whiskey company in the UK when she got the call about what she describes as “this pretty magical role.”
“Coming through St James’s gate for the first time surrounded by all this fantastic heritage and the Dublin 8 area, I kind of fell in love with it. So I’ve been here ever since,” she says.
Speaking about the Roe & Co job she says that most people might be lucky enough to do one project like this in their lifetime, but actually lots of people are not. “I sort of realised that when I was talking to colleagues that had been in the industry for 30/40 years that had never been part of a distillery commissioning. I feel very lucky to have seen it evolve over time. And I think that’s where the idea for Solera first took seed. When we were building the distillery we thought about how do we reflect the changes in this place over time in a way that creates legacy for everybody that’s ever been involved in the project? The Solera system seems like the right way to do that,” she believes.
For those not familiar with it, Solera is a process for aging liquids such as wine and brandy, by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages. Solera means “on the ground” in Spanish, and it refers to the lower level of the set of barrels used in the process; the liquid is traditionally transferred from barrel to barrel, top to bottom, the oldest mixtures being in the barrel right “on the ground”.
Hemy explains the arduous process that was needed to create this whiskey. “The process of filling the Solera took approximately a year and because of the nature of the process, you have to fill it incrementally. You can’t just fill all of the criaderas and leave them,” she says. “You have to transit the whiskey to every single criadera level for it to be a true Solera system. And that takes time. So you’ve got this sort of constant, very intensive filling and un-filling process to maintain the integrity of the Solera.”

Perfumist, DJ and distiller

Aside from being a distiller, Hemy has a unique skillset including distillation, fermentation, sensory exploration, aroma and new product development. She describes herself as a distiller, a perfumist, a chemist and a DJ. During her career she has had multiple positions in both large scale and smaller craft distilleries, leading both distilling operations and distillery plant development.
Hemy’s first whiskey job was at Dalmore Distillery in Scotland in 2013 close to where she comes from and she admits that Scotch was her first love. “Before that I was an enthusiast,” she says. “I came to whiskey as a career a wee bit later in life. My background is actually sound engineering. I have a Fine Art degree and I studied painting initially. I was really interested in the senses and perfume, audio sounds, visuals, how these sensory elements can affect how you feel and how you perceive the world. So that’s what brought me to whiskey because it’s all a very similar chemistry, and this seems like a fantastic place to apply that because it’s at the heart of what whiskey is to me – it’s a universal sensory language.”
She has worked with a lot of building projects in the UK working for corporates as well as smaller craft distilleries including Aber Falls distillery based in North Wales. “I’ve got background and experience in the build side of distillation but also a lot in terms of equity and product development and creation and blending,” she explains.
She says she has been as much inspired by winemakers as she has been by bartenders and chefs. “What I love about Roe & Co is that when we actually combine all of those elements, they’re all very much how we envision the future of Irish whiskey. The greatest place in the world to do that is Dublin because we have such a rich culinary heritage here, as well as our historic connotations with brewing and distilling that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

Traditionally a male orientated career

Roe & Co Distillery in Dublin 8

Hemy agrees when I suggest that whiskey might be typically considered a male centric category but feels like this is more a stereotype than a reality.
“I think traditionally, the way that whiskey has been marketed and communicated would suggest that it’s a very male dominated business. And certainly, there are I think, more men working in some areas of the industry than others but women have been working in the whiskey industry, not just in Ireland but globally for centuries. I think we need to get better at talking about what we do as women. And what I hope is that we continue to make the industry a welcoming place for women to work and a place where women can thrive in their careers.”
She names a number of women in the industry that she has learned from and admires and have also mentored her along her journey.
“I’ve been lucky to have a lot of people that I would consider to be incredible mentors. And, obviously, here in Ireland, we’re very lucky to have the likes of Helen Mulholland who’s inspiring to so many people and comes with so much experience. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Caroline Martin and lots of legends from the world of blending. But also on the brand and commercial side, somebody like Grainne Wafer (Diageo’s global director) is enormously inspiring to me as is Jennifer English, (Bailey’s global brand director) and lots of people within our business that have been particularly supportive.”

Targeted to a younger audience

Lora Hemy with head chef of Variety Jones, Keelin Higgs who catered the launch of Solera Singe Malt

There is such a wide and diverse range of whiskeys on the market and because Roe & Co is a relatively new brand, you imagine it might appeal more to a young audience than an experienced whiskey drinker but Hemy says that it’s a brand for people who are interested in exploring and learning about whiskey.
“I think what we tried to do with Roe & Co is make it inclusive and appealing to as many folks as possible. We hope that we’re a brand for people that enjoy the exploratory nature of whiskey and that’s what excites me about it. The fact that all of these experiences are there to be enjoyed, and it’s got to be delicious, and exciting and enticing. For me, that means everybody is welcome.”
Whiskey cocktails are said to be a gateway for novice whiskey drinkers to get used to the taste on the palate. What does Hemy think is the best way to enjoy whiskey?
“I think enjoy whiskey and explore the most agreeable way to drink it to your own palate. There are so many ways to enjoy whiskey and that sort of makes it fun. So it would be pretty miserable if I said just drink it in a glass with a piece of ice or a drop of water. I like drinking whiskey like that too sometimes, but I also love Manhattan’s and making Old Fashioneds. I think cocktails are a fantastic way of exploring whiskey and I always say don’t be frightened to try new things.”

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