Green Nc’nean’s adventures in whisky blaze a new trail for drinkers

Green Nc’nean’s adventures in whisky blaze a new trail for drinkers

After starting with a gin-like Botanical Spirit infused with citrusy bog myrtle in 2018, the company followed up with its flagship whisky in 2020.

The light and fruity single malt beguiles with notes of spice, cream and a touch of buttered toast.   

Perfect neat or with a mixer, this Nc’nean is turning out to be a match made in cocktail heaven too unleashing mixologists’ creativity and its decorative modern bottles make a standout backdrop in bars.

Single cask collectible editions and two special seasonal releases have joined the cast list: in spring the richly mineral and tropical fruit The Huntress and in autumn the sweeter Quiet Rebels: Lorna, aged in bourbon and ex-Pineau de Charentes casks.  

“Our whisky is the perfect intro drink for those starting on their whisky journey,” says founder and chief executive Annabel Thomas.

“In pursuit of new flavours we have longer mashing times and slower fermentation. The high narrow cut of our still helps produce a purer spirit and the unusual lamp-glass shape encourages gentler distillation.” 

“No one is looking at yeast as we are doing. Yeasts can lower alcohol yield so there’s fewer bottles but they can add more interesting flavours. The rum type is in our Huntress and we are reviewing beer and ale.”

Fittingly named after Neacheohain, the Queen of Spirits in ancient Gaelic legend, Nc’nean’s bold adventures in flavour and creative work with whisky’s three ingredients – barley, water and yeast – have combined with its environmental stance ensuring its place as a pioneering independent stocked among others by Selfridges and Booths’ supermarkets.

Turnover for 2025 is forecast to top £4 million as it expands distribution to the US and Canada this year, boosting existing exports to Europe that make up 80 percent of output.

Inspired by changing social trends among younger, quality-focused drinkers and the market opportunities she saw when visiting traditionally run distilleries, Thomas used the possibilities of a site on her parents’ farm in Drimnin on the remote Morven peninsular to build Nc’nean’s operation. 

The net zero business gained social purpose B Corp status last year and has created 17 vital long-term rural jobs with more to come.

A mix of equity, debt and grant funding has provided £6million of backing so far, including Scottish Enterprise investment and grants from Highland and Islands Enterprise helping with an on-site bottling plant to reduce transport emissions. 

“We’re appealing to a new generation of whisky drinkers, they like our ethics and taste profiles,” says Thomas. “Bars, restaurants, retailers and direct to consumer are now our focus as we move beyond niche luxury and start to add chains.” 

Barley comes from two organic suppliers, energy is renewable and includes a £500,000 biomass boiler while water for cooling is recycled leftover grain feeds the farms cows and waste goes for fertiliser. 

Those features combined with the fabulous location, where eagles, otters and pine martens roam, is proving a big draw for visitors and distillery tours. 

On the practical front transporting and installing such a big piece of equipment like the boiler to the remote spot was a massive undertaking, but no one at Nc’nean is in any doubt that the effort was worth it. 

The latest Quiet Rebels: Lorna release is a tribute to the work of distillery manager Lorna Davidson and with a team that is majority female, “that encourages diversity and new thinking outside of traditional mindsets, reflects change in the industry while not the norm,” says Thomas who is now eyeing Waitrose. 

Maybe too there is a dream hot toddy in the wings as the distillery also has its own bee hives

“We are made by nature not by rules,” declares Thomas.

Published at Sun, 29 Jan 2023 11:01:00 +0000