017. Nc’nean

The quiet rebels who are tearing up the whisky rulebook and being led by nature.

On the wild Morvern Peninsula of West Scotland, Nc’nean’s Founder Annabel Thomas is leading a quiet rebellion in the world of Whisky.

Here is her inspiring story.

I grew up in Essex and spent my childhood summers making the 12-hour journey to family holidays on the west coast of Scotland.

The inspiration for Nc’nean came originally from the location itself. My parents bought the farm that the distillery is on nearly 20 years ago, an area of Scotland that is wild, beautiful and evocative of whisky distilling.

But it was during a trip to Islay when the idea really solidified, I was able to witness first-hand how many Scottish distilleries do things the way they have always been done.

From these beginnings, I started to develop the idea to create a whisky distillery that practices another of my passions – sustainability.

Nc’nean began distilling in March 2017, after four years of fundraising and building the distillery from the ground up. Innovation and creativity are at the heart of what we do, and our organic single malt whisky has been making waves since its launch in August 2020 (including a world record-breaking £41,000 for the first bottle).

Made by Nature, not by rules

The Quiet Rebels

We call our team the quiet rebels; a small team of eco-conscious drinks fanatics who are passionate about creating and sharing delicious tasting whisky.

Location-wise, our team are split into two halves. We have one half up at the distillery on our very remote corner of Scotland’s west coast and the rest of us are based in England, mainly in and around London.

We have also just hired a European Brand Ambassador who is based in Paris and is already doing a fantastic job of spreading the word about Nc’nean across Europe.

We try to get together as a team as much as possible. Each month we have a whole team whisky tasting led by our blender Matt which is always a great way to come together to learn about and try different whiskies.

I’m lucky enough to have a pretty varied work world – sometimes you’ll find me working from home in London, sometimes from the distillery, sometimes from our shared office in central London, and frequently I’ll be around the country or abroad spending time with Nc’nean’s customers and consumers.

The view is also pretty varied! I enjoy the travelling but also need my time in my home office to be able to concentrate on the tricky, complicated bits of starting a new whisky distillery from scratch!

Our inspiration

The inspiration for the name Nc’nean comes from Neachneohain who was an ancient Gaelic goddess. She was known as the Queen of spirits and was a fierce protector of nature. She was strong, independent and never afraid to walk her own path. We try to follow her ethos in everything we do.

When it comes to our whisky, we endeavour to be experimental in all elements of our spirit production.

Our malted barley is mashed and fermented slowly, and we collect only the purest, fruitiest part of our spirit distillation.

Unlike a lot of distilleries we also like to experiment with different yeast strains to discover what delicious new flavours we can bring to our whisky. Every autumn we release a new whisky based on one of our team member’s taste preferences and we name the whisky after them. We call this series Quiet Rebels.

In 2022 we released a spirit which had notes of banana bread, grapefruit and peach ice cream, which was chosen by Lorna, one of our wonderful distillers. This year’s Quiet Rebels will be released by our lovely Head of Sustainability, Amy.

The highlights

One particular highlight of our journey so far was when we auctioned off our first ten bottles of whisky and the amount of money we were able to raise hugely exceeded our expectations.

When we were getting ready to release our first few bottles, as a team we put our heads together to discuss which charities really meant the most to us.

When the auction kicked off, we soon realised that we would be raising a little more than first anticipated. The team spent the final 30 minutes on our Whatsapp group sharing ever growing disbelief at the prices going up and up!

At the time of the hammer bottle 1 had reached an incredible £41,004. Four times the previous world record of around £10,000!

Just as exciting were bottles 2-10 which combined raised more than the first bottle put together. With the addition of the donation from whisky auctioneer, the total auction raised £92,500, an amount that we never could have imagined.

We are still in disbelief at the huge success and were so excited to be able to give over £18,000 to each of our chosen charities. The chosen charities were; Trees for Life, who create safe spaces for wildlife and increase biodiversity, The Drinks Trust and The Ben who are Scotland’s leading hospitality charities and The Morvern Community Trust who do an amazing job of helping our local community around the distillery with a variety of projects. Finally, the fifth charity we chose was Scottish Farm Land Trust who support small scale sustainable farming projects.

We were so thrilled with the money raised as were the wonderful charities! Additionally, being on the front page of the BBC app a couple of years back felt like a proper highlight and a super exciting time for the brand!

we endeavour to be experimental in all elements of our spirit production

Our focus on sustainability

In July 2021 Nc’nean achieved verified net zero carbon emissions from our own operations. It was the first time a UK whisky distillery was classified as net zero for scopes 1 & 2 and we were very happy to be able to reach this goal 20 years ahead of the industry target.

We have continued to hold this net zero verification over the past three years.

In January 2022 we gained our B Corp status with an industry leading score of 136.5 (versus an average UK score of 88) with major points in the environmental impact area.

We recycle or reuse 99.9% of our waste and we use 100% post consumer recycled glass bottles for our whisky.

The malted barley we use to make our whisky is 100% organic, and sourced from two Scottish farms.

90% of the water that we use is for cooling the vapour as it comes off the stills, and instead of using energy to cool this, we continuously recycle this rainwater via our natural cooling pond.

When it comes to recruitment, we don’t worry too much about how much time people have or haven’t spent in the, historically male, whisky industry. We are proud to have a team made up of over 50% women, but to us, it’s just a brilliant team of awesome humans, male and female from all over the world.

A new way to enjoy

We would love to get to the stage where lots more people view whisky as more than a drink that is consumed whilst sitting in an armchair at the end of the evening.

We definitely don’t knock the armchair drams, but we are trying to tear up the rule book a bit to make sure that people feel they can drink whisky whatever way they want to.

We know that so many people prefer whisky when they have it as part of a cocktail or mixed drink which is why we came up with our Whisky Six recipe. We recommend it is served as a pre-dinner drink (around six pm) and we suggest serving two parts whisky to four parts soda water (which makes up six) with a sprig of fresh mint and ice.

We are lucky that we aren’t alone on the mission of making whisky more appealing to a wider group of people and there are some amazing whisky brands who are also doing a great job in helping to challenge the way that whisky is perceived.

IMAGES ©Erik McRitchie & Nc’nean 2024

Nc’nean really are a brand to watch thanks to opening up the whisky market to appeal to a whole new demographic, and what an incredible fundraising story too!

Thank you Annabel for sharing your inspiring Founder story – Lyndsey

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