In 2013, Annabel Thomas left her job in London to bring her family’s long held dream to life; to build a distillery on their family farm on the remote and wild Morvern peninsula on the west coast of Scotland.
After a road-trip to the famous whisky isle of Islay, Annabel’s ideas began to take shape. She would create a distillery that whilst small would hold a big vision, to do things differently, to reshape a centuries old industry and bring whisky making firmly into the twenty first century.
Annabel drew up a business plan for an independent distillery that would become a leader in sustainability and innovation within the Scottish whisky industry.
The name Nc’nean was chosen. An abbreviation of Neachneohain, the Queen of Spirits and a protector of nature in Gaelic legend; it was a more than fitting title for one of Scotland’s first female-founded whisky distilleries that was established with the aim of working in harmony with the planet.
After years of fundraising, a huge restoration project on the farm, a distillery build and likely a lot of boiling kettles and cups of coffee, in 2017 Nc’nean finally heated their stills for the first time.
The Nc'nean Ethos
Since their beginnings Nc'nean has been creating experimental spirits and pioneering sustainable production to produce whisky that makes a big impression with the smallest footprint. Annabel started Nc’nean with a vision to change the way the world thinks about the golden dram, whilst creating a whisky mindful of the demand on our planet's limited resources.
I’d like to be spreading the sustainability word and hopefully having a broader impact than just whisky – I’d like to use our platform to influence the rest of the industry for the better and also consumers to make better choices. I hope there is a movement coming which will encourage businesses to be ‘better’ businesses and I’d like Nc’nean to be at the forefront of that.
Annabel Thomas, Nc'nean
Malted barley, yeast and water. Nc'nean's whisky spirit is made from 100% organic Scottish barley, whose low yields result in concentrated flavour and whose farming practices encourage biodiversity and soil health.
There has been a focus on experimentation with barley varietals in the whisky industry over recent years. At Nc’nean they have put the spotlight on experimentation with yeast. Nc'nean use two varieties for their house style: one creates fruity flavours, the other is a more traditional distilling yeast. They also distil with an unusual selection of alternative yeast strains such as rum and red wine yeast, running different spirit recipes at different times of year, to inspire creativity in their whiskies flavour and character.
The team at Nc'nean are firm believers that the best things come with time. Nothing and no one at the distillery is in a rush, much like life on the remote corner of the peninsula on which the distillery is based.
Their malted barley is mashed slowly, fermented slowly and distilled slowly. The malted barley spends an hour resting for flavour development and another 20 minutes being filtered through the husks for purity. Fermentation lasts for up to 114 hours (twice that of a typical distillery’s fermentation time).
United by a love for whisky, sustainability and the west coast, Nc'nean employs a team of four distillers led by distillery manager Gordon Wood, formerly of the nearby Oban distillery. He is joined by Lorna Davidson, Simon Hewitt and Sarah Hewitt.
The distillery is also part of a wave of new distilleries to receive counsel from renowned late distilling consultant, Dr. Jim Swan, who was infact master distiller at Nc'nean before his passing. He helped in the design of the distillery, their house style and maturation approach.
Nc’nean is a forward thinking distillery looking at the world in a different way to create a vibrant and sustainable company that instills a sense of responsibility throughout the fabric of their entire operations.
They use exclusively organic Scottish barley in a distillery powered by renewable energy and recycle 99.97% of their waste. Their maiden whisky release is also bottled in a 100% recycled clear glass bottle. Each bottle of their organic certified whisky secures two square metres of biodiversity and soil health and is produced in a distillery with a carbon footprint that is 90% less than a fossil fuelled distillery of a similar size.
Ainnir is Nc'nean's maiden bottling, their first ever whisky release. Ainnir is an unpeated, smooth and elegant single malt whisky made exclusively from organic Scottish barley. A marriage of five casks, all selected for their unique complexities and harmonious nature together. Nc'nean's maiden release was a run of 1,320 bottles, each individually numbered, bottled at cask strength (60.3%), and not chill-filtered or coloured.
Whisky Auctioneer were delighted to partner with Nc'nean distillery to offer the once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire the first ten bottles of their maiden bottling, Ainnir, the first whisky ever produced at the distillery. All proceeds from the auction were split between five charities that support sustainability, the local Morvern community and the UK hospitality industry; Trees for Life, The Scottish Farm Land Trust, The Ben, The Drinks Trust and Morvern Community Trust.
The auction raised a total of £92,500 for the charities, including the donation of Whisky Auctioneer's buyer's commission and new registration fees. As featured in Forbes, Bottle #1 sold for an incredible £41,004 setting a new world record for a first bottle from a new distillery to be sold at auction.