There is nothing like churning through icy squall at speed to impart an appreciation of maritime influence. I recently visited the home of Ireland’s newest whiskey brand, the small, quirky island of Lambay, located off the coast of Dublin. We arrived in dramatic fashion, by boat at 60 knots, exhilarated, hair tangled and thoroughly doused in sea spray. The privately owned island is the home of the Baring family who have owned the island since 1906 when the Baron of Revelstone Cecil bought the island as a home for himself and his new bride, Maude, to escape the scurrilous gossips of London and New York society. For Dubliners, the island has always retained an aura of mystery, with visits strictly at the invitation of the family.
The former banking family recently created the Lambay Whiskey brand in collaboration with the Cognac producer, Camus. The whiskey operation will focus heavily on maturation, with pre-aged whiskey being purchased from a third party. The whiskey will then be transferred to Maison Camus Cognac casks, and transported by boat for a period of maturation on the island before being reduced to bottling strength with volcanic water from the island’s Trinity Well. While on the island, the whiskey will be housed in a small bonded warehouse made of stone, which backs directly onto the beach, beaten by the sea and squall on rough days.
While the whiskey quietly matures in the former boathouse, the other produce of the island continues to thrive. The island is home to wild rabbit and venison, as well as closed herds of cattle and sheep. It is also home to a colony of wallabies, moved there from Dublin Zoo in the 1980s. The Australian marsupial looks like a small kangaroo and despite Ireland’s cool weather has thrived in the lush vegetation and temperate microclimate of Lambay Island, but they, along with the puffins are safe from the butchers block.
A square mile of rock and turf washed by waves from the Irish sea, a castle unique in plan, an enchanting animal life, a fascinating history – these are Lambay
Animal husbandry on the island is of paramount importance, with all of the animals safely isolated from the occasional diseases of the mainland which would require medication. Speaking about the deer on Lambay, master butcher Michael Birmingham explains; “the deer on the island are famous Irish Red Deer that would have its genetics going right back to the folklore times. All venison from Lambay were born and reared on the Island and would have the distinct taste of truly wild venison as they forage on the wild gorse, heather and cliff-side flowers and grasses mixed with the clear salt air off the sea.”
The island is abundant with wild herbs, berries and seaweeds. At the launch of Lambay Island Whiskey two talented chefs, Erin and Jo made the most of the island’s bounty to prepare a feast for invited guests, drawing on the scents and flavours of Lambay.
Lambay Island Venison Braise with Lambay Whiskey and Sorrel
This recipe encapsulates the flavours of Lambay and a moment in a season. This ephemera is at the heart of eating seasonally. Use your own local venison, and swap out the sorrel for bitter greens, and the whiskey for your current dram to make it local to where you find yourself. INGREDIENTS
- 1.25kg Venison Braising Steak
- 50ml neutral flavoured vegetable oil
- 150g smoked streaky bacon, cut into small dice (optional)
- Handful of sorrel leaves, chopped
- 80ml red wine
- 10mL sherry vinegar
- 10ml balsamic vinegar
- 30ml Lambay whiskey
- 1L chicken stock
- 60g tomato puree
- 100g peeled pearl onions, or small shallots peeled and finely chopped
- 300g button mushrooms
Season and brown vension in batches in a hot pan in the oil, do not overcrowd the pan. Make sure you get a good colour on it. Set aside. Saute the bacon if using, and set aside.
In a large pot, add the red wine, vinegars, and whiskey over medium high heat and reduce until it has halved in volume.
Add in the pearl onions, mushrooms, sorrel, browned meat, bacon, the stock and tomato puree.
Mix to combine. Cover pot with a cartouche, a circular piece of greaseproof paper cut to fit snuggly over the top of the stew. Cook for 1½ - 2 hours until the meat is fork tender. Serve with root vegetables.
Erin & Jo, The Edible Flower
What are the unique challenges of working on the island?
Lambay is a very special place. Obviously it’s an island, so everything consumed on the island that isn’t grown or foraged there needs to be brought by boat. Any waste that can’t be recycled on the island needs to be taken off by boat. Working on Lambay makes you very conscious of food waste, packaging and energy use! Alex and Millie Baring are working very hard to create a closed loop system on the island to minimise what needs to be brought onto the island and what needs to be taken away. Food is a big part of that. There are plans to restore the walled kitchen garden so more food can be produced on the island.
What did you love working with on the island?
We love using wild plants in our menus and it is such a pleasure to be able to use wild plants from a completely unspoiled place such as Lambay. We used wild sea beet with feta and mint in briouat (little Moroccan filo parcels) and matched lemony sorrel mayonnaise with rabbit and sage croquettes. There are plenty of rabbits on the island!
What inspired you for your Lambay Island Whiskey launch menu?
The menu for the Lambay Whiskey launch was inspired by the setting, produce and wild plants of Lambay, as well as our interest in Middle Eastern cuisine. We love working with seasonal Irish produce but using it in new and surprising ways.
Our menus are also often inspired by the scent and flavour of flowers and there are beautiful floral gardens around the castle at Lambay and in the walled kitchen garden, this inspired the dessert – Lavender panna cotta with strawberries, wood sorrel and basil seed shortbread, as well as the marinade for the lamb chops which was packed with dried rose petals along with cumin, turmeric, chilli and homegrown garlic.
As it was the launch of Lambay Whiskey we were also really keen to incorporate a few dashes of whiskey, which we did with the Irish Morning Buns with orange and Lambay Whiskey soaked dried fruit, as well as Irish coffees after the lunch.
The Lambay whiskeys
Cows on the island
Erin and Jo