Q&A: Sabine Sheehan on the Legend of Lambay and Ireland’s cultural comeback

On why Irish culture is having something of a moment

In a recently launched digital-first immersive campaign created by the independent brand design agency Lewis Moberly, Lambay pays homage to its home, Lambay Island. In this interview our editor Mike Piggott spoke to Sabine Sheehan, Senior Brand Manager and Global Brand Ambassador at Lambay Irish Whiskey Company, to learn more about the brand, and why whiskey (and Irish culture) is making a comeback.

Hi Sabine, nice to chat. Let’s start with history: how much had Lambay leant into its own history before this campaign? Was it an obvious choice to focus on your past, to tell an origin story?

Lambay Irish Whiskey Company (LIWC) has a strong backstory, where the centuries-old tradition of whiskey-making and cognac-blending expertise intertwine, combining both whiskey-making and family legacies in the brand’s DNA. We source whiskey from independent Irish distilleries that continue the original traditions of whiskey production. The House of Camus is the world’s leading family-owned cognac producer, and crafts some of the best cognac in the world.

Cecil Baring

Lambay shares similar values, in terms of the rich heritage of the emblematic Baring family. We’ve always aimed to combine these factors into our communications; to highlight the uniqueness of our story. For this campaign we wanted to lean into the Baring family history, to honour Lambay Island as a unique place, and to highlight the family history that’s passed down through generations.

The legend of Lambay is quite an evocative title. What’s the legend and how does it connect to the whiskey?

Lambay Island may be barely two miles off the east coast of Ireland, but it retains an air of inaccessible mystery. Today, Alexander Baring is spearheading what has become known as “the Lambay Initiative”, a comprehensive effort to preserve the Island to ensure that its coastline, flora, fauna and architecture are kept in pristine condition. And that the original values passed down through generations are kept alive, appealing to those fortunate enough to share it via the private island club, created by Millie Baring (Alexander’s sister).

Lambay Island

At a time when Lambay Island is primarily recognised as a unique retreat for personal development, the nascent activity of whiskey making is testimony to how much Lambay Island is a sanctuary for an enjoyable way of life. Lambay Whiskey endeavours to be a “living tradition” — an expression of both the two-family mottos, “Finer things in Life” and “Quid Fecimus Vides” (See What We Have Achieved). The Lambay Whiskey story is not just a tagline — it’s the foundation upon which we have built our brand. Our ambition is simple: create a great whiskey to captivate passionate consumers and foster creativity. As consumers become more knowledgeable they demand more complex taste profiles, which giving us an opportunity to offer a super-premium whiskey.

According to The Guardian, Irish whiskey is roaring back after decades of decline. Why was it in decline and why do you think it’s making a comeback?

Irish whiskey was famous throughout the world for a long time, enjoying global success in the 16th and through to the 19th century. It was once the most popular style of whiskey in the world, and synonymous with quality and luxury. But that wasn’t to last. At its peak, there were 88 licensed distilleries around the island at the end of the 1800s.

As we entered the 20th century, whiskey faced many challenges. During World War II, a trade war with Britain effectively closed off the entire British Empire as a market for Irish whiskey. By the mid-1900s only five whiskey distilleries had survived. The five joined forces to establish the Irish Distillers Group in 1966.

At this point, the rebuild of Irish whiskey began. Thankfully for the industry, tastes have changed. We put our faith in innovation, received large scale investment from multinational companies, and found our niche within the thriving industry. Many Irish distilleries have focused on sustainability and traceability, appealing to the modern consumer. We’re not bound by the same rules as the Scotch or Bourbon industries when it comes to wood. This allows us a unique opportunity to use a variety of wood and cask types, which give us our USP.

Do you think pop culture plays a part, with shows like Peaky Blinders referencing Irish whiskey? Also, shows like Game of Thrones, Vikings and Normal People, and movies like The Last Jedi and The Banshees of Inisherin… they feel like they’re helping get people interested in Ireland, its rugged landscapes and culture.

Absolutely. It’s a cultural spirit evolution, we’re seeing millennials and bartenders seeking out varied taste profiles in whiskeys — it’s the spirit de jour!

Pop culture has shown that when consumers are seeking a social ‘bond and connect’ moment, they choose their favourite Irish whiskey.

The spirit fits this domain quite well, as it’s steeped in its own history — and the romance of Ireland adds authenticity and appeal, especially with such a large Irish diaspora around the world.

This revival must be great for Lambay, but a lot of whiskey brands lean into their heritage these days. How do you stand out, and continue to do so once the initial campaign dies down?

Lambay Whiskey’s vision is to own the ‘cognac cask finishing’ craft sector of Irish whiskey — and to be recognised for doing this excellently and consistently. We’re clear not to blur the lines about who and what we are, and aim to be transparent and work with only the best suppliers. This comes at a price, but it’s an important value we share across the business, to never compromise on taste or quality.

Our flagship brand is marketed as non-gender, elegant, sweet, easy drinking and accessible for entry level whiskey drinkers. For aficionados, we offer varied malts and single cask strengths with unique serves and food pairings. We always communicate that we’re an approachable whiskey, one that’s not exclusionary or unaffordable.

What’s next for the brand?

New product development! We are releasing Batch 02 Single Malt from our Reserve Cask Series collection with Batch 03 planned for 2024. We’ll focus on regaining territory in Duty Free, with listings in New Delhi, Singapore, Hong Kong and USA .

Also, we have a planning grant to develop a micro-distillery on Lambay Island, which will increase our tourist appeal. This will take a few years, so there’s plenty of work to do down the pipeline!


Irish whiskey roaring back after decades of declineThe Guardian

On location: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, shooting in Ireland

Where was The Banshees of Inisherin filmed in Ireland?

Featured image: Aldo De La Paz / Unsplash