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Drimnin

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Ncn'ean Distillery
Distillery
A young, independent whisky distillery, Ncn’ean started distilling here on Drimnin Estate an organic single malt whisky in March 2017.

The distillery offers tours (pre-booking required) which include speciality cupcakes, cocktails and a taste of the new make spirit, and if a tour is not for you, sit and enjoy a coffee, tea, soft drinks or a beer in the distillery bar (open Mon- Fri 11am – 5 pm). Lunch (from 12-2pm), and if you feel like a cocktail there is a distillery happy hour between 4 – 5pm daily (pre-booking for lunch & cocktails required)

Annabel, CEO and Founder said “We’re using some of the most imaginative distilling ideas from around the world and the best ingredients Scotland has to offer. We’re aiming to create a spirit that’s fruity, smooth and easy to drink and mix. We’re trying longer mashing times and slower fermentation, and experimenting with yeasts not commonly used in distilling.”

The distillery is also committed to a sustainable approach. Believed to be the first organic whisky distillery in Scotland, its stills are powered with woodchip from a local forest and all by-products are used on the farm as feed or fertiliser.

The name Ncn’ean (pronounced Nc-ne-an, which sounds like Nc-knee-anne) comes from Neachneohain, the Queen of Spirits in Gaelic legend. Neachneohain was a huntress: strong, independent and never afraid to walk her own path. A quiet rebel. She was also a fierce protector of nature.

The first whisky is expected to be released in 2020. There are a limited number of early casks for sale in bond
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One of the new wave of Scottish farm distilleries designed by the late Jim Swan, which is set up to produce a light, fruity and organic single malt spirit.


Ncn’ean (pronounced Nook-knee-anne), is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, the name of a witch-queen in Scots Gaelic folklore who, according to Sir Walter Scott, ‘rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling host of wanderers under her grim banner’. Much like its namesake, Ncn’ean distillery on Scotland’s Morvern peninsula, is very much a leader in its protection of its natural environment, and intentions to operate at the forefront of innovation.

Ncn’ean has been designed as the first fully organic modern distillery in Scotland powered by 100% renewable energy. Wood chips for the biomass boiler are sourced from a local forest, while all by-products are recycled as animal and plant feed on the remote estate on which it lies.

The farm distillery was designed by the late distilling consultant Jim Swan to produce a light, fruity and estery spirit, a character intensified by slow mashes, long fermentations, horizontal lyne arms and shell and tube condensers, with a high, narrow spirit cut.

Experimentation comes in the form of varying yeast strains not usually adopted by distillers, while the wood programme will be focused predominantly on ex-Bourbon and red wine cask maturation, with a small Sherry influence. Two dunnage warehouses, located on the hill behind the distillery, feature temperature regulators to allow Ncn’ean greater control over the flavour generated in cask over time.  

The idea to build a distillery on the grounds of the historic Drimnin Estate came to the Lewis family in 2012, some 10 years after they bought and set about restoring the neglected property. The estate itself had once been Maclean clan territory, and formed part of the Drimnin Castle grounds, but was sold by a bankrupt Charles Maclean in the late 18th century. Following a succession of owners and misfortunes – Drimnin House itself burned down in 1849, its owners meeting unrelated yet tragic and untimely deaths – the estate was rebuilt and eventually restored into holiday lets, a cattle farm and conservation area.

By 2013 the Lewis family’s plans to build a distillery in the historic farm buildings adjacent to Drimnin House were well underway, with daughter Annabel Thomas leaving a job in London to manage the project personally as CEO of the newly established Drimnin Distillery Ltd. Following two investment rounds, which included a government grant, the project was finally completed in March 2017.

While Drimnin distillery became the working title for the project, the family and its private investors were keen to separate the business from the rest of the estate. At the start of 2017 the new name Ncn’ean was chosen – Drimnin Distillery Ltd will soon also be renamed Ncn’ean Distillery Ltd – and on 21 March the first spirit was filled into cask. The distillery officially opened to visitors in July.

The first whisky to be released by Ncn’ean distillery is expected in 2020, although a limited number of individual casks are made available to purchase annually.

CAPACITY (MLPA) i
0.96
CONDENSER TYPE i
Multi-pass shell and tube
FERMENTATION TIME i
66-114 hours
FILLING STRENGTH i
63.3%
GRIST WEIGHT (T) i
1
HEAT SOURCE i
Steam from a biomass boiler
MALT SPECIFICATION i
Organic, Scottish, unpeated
MALT SUPPLIER i
Muntons from five organic farms
MASH TUN TYPE i
Semi-lauter
NEW-MAKE STRENGTH i
71-72%
SINGLE MALT PERCENTAGE i
100%
SPIRIT STILL SHAPE i
Lantern
SPIRIT STILL SIZE (L) i
3,500
STILLS i
2
WAREHOUSING i
Dunnage on site
WASH STILL SHAPE i
Lantern
WASH STILL SIZE (L) i
5,000
WASHBACK CHARGE (L) i
5,000
WASHBACK SIZE (L) i
6,650
WASHBACK TYPE i
Stainless steel
WASHBACKS i
4
WATER SOURCE i
Local spring
WORT CLARITY i
High clarity
YEAST TYPE i
Varies, includes Fermentis
and Anchor distillers yeast

Drimnin

NCN'EAN
DISTILLERY
One of the new wave of Scottish farm distilleries designed by the late Jim Swan, which is set up to produce a light, fruity and organic single malt spirit.

NCN'EAN DISTILLERY
HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Ncn’ean (pronounced Nook-knee-anne), is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, the name of a witch-queen in Scots Gaelic folklore who, according to Sir Walter Scott, ‘rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling host of wanderers under her grim banner’. Much like its namesake, Ncn’ean distillery on Scotland’s Morvern peninsula, is very much a leader in its protection of its natural environment, and intentions to operate at the forefront of innovation.

Ncn’ean has been designed as the first fully organic modern distillery in Scotland powered by 100% renewable energy. Wood chips for the biomass boiler are sourced from a local forest, while all by-products are recycled as animal and plant feed on the remote estate on which it lies.

The farm distillery was designed by the late distilling consultant Jim Swan to produce a light, fruity and estery spirit, a character intensified by slow mashes, long fermentations, horizontal lyne arms and shell and tube condensers, with a high, narrow spirit cut.

Experimentation comes in the form of varying yeast strains not usually adopted by distillers, while the wood programme will be focused predominantly on ex-Bourbon and red wine cask maturation, with a small Sherry influence. Two dunnage warehouses, located on the hill behind the distillery, feature temperature regulators to allow Ncn’ean greater control over the flavour generated in cask over time.

The idea to build a distillery on the grounds of the historic Drimnin Estate came to the Lewis family in 2012, some 10 years after they bought and set about restoring the neglected property. The estate itself had once been Maclean clan territory, and formed part of the Drimnin Castle grounds, but was sold by a bankrupt Charles Maclean in the late 18th century. Following a succession of owners and misfortunes – Drimnin House itself burned down in 1849, its owners meeting unrelated yet tragic and untimely deaths – the estate was rebuilt and eventually restored into holiday lets, a cattle farm and conservation area.

By 2013 the Lewis family’s plans to build a distillery in the historic farm buildings adjacent to Drimnin House were well underway, with daughter Annabel Thomas leaving a job in London to manage the project personally as CEO of the newly established Drimnin Distillery Ltd. Following two investment rounds, which included a government grant, the project was finally completed in March 2017.

While Drimnin distillery became the working title for the project, the family and its private investors were keen to separate the business from the rest of the estate. At the start of 2017 the new name Ncn’ean was chosen – Drimnin Distillery Ltd will soon also be renamed Ncn’ean Distillery Ltd – and on 21 March the first spirit was filled into cask. The distillery officially opened to visitors in July.

The first whisky to be released by Ncn’ean distillery is expected in 2020, although a limited number of individual casks are made available to purchase annually.

ANNABEL THOMAS, NCN’EAN
March 2019
Ncn’ean founder Annabel Thomas chose Scotland’s west coast to open a 100% organic distillery in 2017. Here she tells Kirsten Amor Ncn’ean’s sustainability struggles, potential growth for botanic spirits, and why the timing is right for yeast experimentation.

Ncn'ean founder Annabel Thomas at her distillery
Career change: Thomas started Ncn’ean distillery on the family farm in Drimnin
‘The original idea for Ncn’ean came from two places: one, that I love whisky and I always had a connection with Scotland through my family. But I also felt like there was an opportunity to do Scotch more sustainably and more creatively, and that was what I wanted to achieve.

‘When we first started building the distillery we found loads of obstacles [on our journey] towards sustainability, and we’re still encountering them. The thing I realised is that it is definitely a “journey” rather than an “end goal”.

‘Most of the energy we use in the distillery comes from our biomass boiler, which we wanted to use as we have a source of timber literally right next to the distillery, and we wouldn’t then carry any road miles in getting fuel to us. It took us a long time to get the set-up of the boiler right for distilling; they prefer to operate continuously, whereas we only have one distillation shift a day. We spent a total of nine months tweaking it to get it working as we wanted, which was unexpected.

‘Sourcing organic Scottish barley was more difficult than I expected – there’s actually not that much of it. Not only do you have to find the barley, but you also have to find a maltster who is certified to process it.

‘There’s also all the smaller things we’re now working on, like trying to find more sustainable cleaning products for the distillery. Most people use caustic soda, which is not good in many ways, so we’ve been working hard to find an alternative to that. We’re making sound progress, but it’s not easy.

Sustainably fuelled: Ncn’ean uses woodchips from a nearby timber forest for fuel

‘Ncn’ean botanical spirit was the outcome of lots of different developments we did with our new make spirit. We’re in this beautiful part of remote, wild Scotland, and we have fantastic plants growing all around us.

‘There aren’t many distilleries in Scotland that are working on botanical spirits, but I hope more do. With ours for example, we hope that it’s drunk more like a gin, with a tonic. We also hope that it opens people’s eyes to drinking whisky in a different way.

‘The botanic spirit category is obviously very small at the moment, and the vast majority of the public still don’t know what it is. I hope at the most basic level it will grow. It’s interesting because people understand gin, and maybe this category will give them something more original to drink.

‘It’s too early to start educating people on these spirits, however. The category is still being designed by those that work in it and needs to develop further before we can say to a consumer “this is a botanical spirit”. That’s a challenge that we in the industry will have to face, because consumers will start asking questions and wanting to know the difference between them.

Distant shores: Ncn’ean distillery is located in a remote corner of Scotland’s west coast

‘The biggest surprise for me in the industry as a whole, not having any particular background in whisky myself, is the yeast side. I’ve always been interested in all different types of alcohol, and knowing how passionately brewers feel about their yeast, I was surprised at how little interest there was from the distilling industry overall – particularly at the bigger distilleries. A lot of them use the same yeast in all of their whiskies, and the same strains as each other.

‘Traditionally distillers have approached experimentation through the cask and maturation side of operations, but now that those have been “done”, people are now looking at the underlying spirit. Yeast is such an important part, I can’t help but think we’ll see more and more creativity in this area.

‘Some people have described Ncn’ean as the most remote distillery in Scotland. Unlike other distilleries that are in more touristy areas, we don’t have as many visitors. The plan was never on having a huge chunk of revenue from tours. We are very small and intimate – we have a maximum of 30 visitors a day, which is tiny when compared to others that receive millions a year.

‘The people that come love it, because they get a very personal experience and they get to meet the whole team – they appreciate the “behind the scenes” view.

‘What we have been trying to develop with our whisky is something that enables the underlying spirit to shine through. We put in so much effort to ensure our new make spirit is as delicious as possible, and then the casks just provide extra flavour and maturation, and bring it all together.

‘I want Scotch whisky to be seen as less snobbish, more democratic. We don’t suggest Ncn’ean whisky to be only drunk neat – personally I love whisky in a Highball, and that is one of the things we will suggest as a serving when it comes out next year. We’ve designed it to be unpeated and fruity. If we can persuade people to drink more creatively then we will feel like we have succeeded.

‘Hearing people’s feedback on our work and their support for what we’re trying to do in the industry, particularly with sustainability and being organic, has been amazing. Having those conversations and comments will stick with me for a very long time.’

FIRST FULLY ORGANIC SCOTCH DISTILLERY OPENS
June 2017
Scotland’s ‘first’ 100% organic single malt Scotch whisky distillery has opened on a remote farm estate in the Highlands.

Youthful appearance: Ncn’ean will aim to produce a ‘young, light’ style of spirit
Ncn’ean distillery (pronounced Nook-knee-anne), began producing spirit in March, but will start welcoming visitors to the distillery from July.

Its name is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, a witch-queen in Scots Gaelic folklore who was also referred to as ‘Queen of the Spirits’.

Situated in renovated farm buildings on the remote, historic Drimnin Estate near Oban and Fort William, Ncn’ean – formerly known under its working title of Drimnin distillery – will produce just under 100,000 litres of pure alcohol each year.

Ncn’ean is thought to be the first fully organic Scottish distillery, sourcing only organic barley and local spring water to make its single malt spirit.

It is also one of the greenest distilleries in the country, sourcing all its energy from renewable sources and recycling by-products from the process as cattle feed on the estate’s farm.

The style of single malt whisky produced at Ncn’ean will be light and fruity, with maturation taking place predominantly in ex-Bourbon and red wine casks.

Some experimentation will also take place using alternative yeast strains and temperature regulators in its on-site dunnage warehouses – methods developed for the distillery in collaboration with the late whisky consultant Dr Jim Swan, whose other projects included Kilchoman and the soon-to-open Lindores Abbey.

The distillery is the brainchild of Annabel Thomas, whose parents Derek and Louise Lewis bought Drimnin Estate in 2002.

Thomas, a former strategy consultant in the City of London, was considering her future over a cocktail in 2012 when the idea to build Ncn’ean at her family’s estate came to her.

She said: ‘I always loved Scotch and I felt we had something new to bring to the conversation, but there was also a local drive to what we wanted to do.

‘Drimnin is a very tiny place with not many businesses, so therefore not very much employment. Being able to provide a sustainable business with jobs in an area that otherwise doesn’t have many was always part of the motivation.’

Ncn’ean has employed a team of three distillers, lead by distillery manager Gordon Wood, formerly at nearby Oban distillery. Joining him are distillers Lorna Davidson and Reay Whyte.

Dr Swan had acted as consultant master distiller on the project before his death in March this year.

‘Jim came to Ncn’ean two weeks before he died, and we’d gone through the whole recipe together,’ Thomas said. ‘He was due to come back the week we filled our first barrel, but he never made it.’

Dr Swan worked with Thomas and the Ncn’ean team, which includes managing director Benet Slay, formerly head of Carlsberg UK, to design the distillery and its spirit.

‘There are a couple of things which we are really passionate about,’ Thomas said.

‘One is the environment, and doing things right by nature. We also want to play around with how we make the whisky.

‘We’re going for a relatively young, light style of spirit as a basis, but we have a number of ideas up our sleeve, some of which will be within the realms of Scotch as defined by the SWA, and others will be outside it.

‘We’re young and independent and this gives us the freedom to experiment. We’re exploring new taste profiles every month, seeing what a small-batch craft whisky can deliver.’

Ncn’ean expects to release its first single malt whisky in 2020, when the spirit is three years old. In the meantime, the distillery is offering the opportunity to purchase one of its first barrels at £3,000 for an ex-Bourbon cask, and £3,900 for an ex-wine cask.

The distillery will welcome visitors on a pre-booked basis Monday to Friday, and hopes to establish a multi-distillery tour in collaboration with nearby Tobermory, Oban and Ardnamurchan distilleries.
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