ncnean interview

„Made by nature, not by rules“ – Annabel Thomas about the Nc’nean Distillery

Nc’nean is an award-winning, independent organic whisky distillery in Scotland. Founded by Annabel Thomas in March 2017, it is revolutionizing the whisky industry through new flavors and carbon-neutral production in harmony with nature. The distillery became the first in the UK to achieve verified net zero carbon emissions status in July 2021. All Nc’nean products are certified organic, bottles are made from 100 percent recycled glass, and waste is almost entirely recycled or reused. Nc’nean received B Corp accreditation in February 2022 and was named “Best for World B Corp. 2022” in July 2022 for its exceptionally positive impact on the environment.

We spoke with founder Annabel Thomas in an interview. She talks about the brand philosophy, products and future plans.

Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

Annabel Thomas: Hello, I’m Annabel Thomas, CEO of Nc’nean distillery. Nc’nean is an independent, organic whisky distillery on the west coast of Scotland.

Could you please tell us something about the history of Nc´nean Whisky and how the idea to start your own distillery came about?

Annabel Thomas: The distillery is on my parent’s farm and it started as a family idea – something we talked about around the dinner table. When I had the opportunity to take some time off from my previous job (I was a management consultant in London), I decided to do some more research on the idea, and, especially in contrast to some of the businesses I had worked with previously, I felt there was very little focus on sustainability and very much a ‘doing things the way they have always been done’ approach.

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Tradition is so important in Scotch but I felt there was also a role for a distillery that was focused on sustainability and with a more forward looking approach. This was the point that ‘clicked’ for me – I felt like this was something I needed to do. So without too much further thought I quit my job and set off on this epic adventure! Two years of fundraising, two years of building later and we finally started production in 2017.

How is Nc´nean whisky different from other Scotch whiskies and what are its distinctive features?

Annabel Thomas: From a taste perspective, there are a couple of important things – firstly it’s organic, and that generates a lovely depth of flavour and texture. Just like organic vegetables, our organic barley grows without the help of fertilizers and pesticides – richer soils and a tougher life create additional flavours in the grain and this translates through into the spirit. Secondly, we create a really delicious fruity spirit by concentrating on fermentation – using two yeasts and fermenting for up to 114 hours really allows the flavours to develop in that stage of the process. After maturation in a combination of ex-bourbon, STR red wine and sherry casks, our resulting single malt has delicious notes of citrus, soft fruits and spice.

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How important is it for Nc´nean Whisky to consider sustainability and environmental protection and how does that shape the whole production process?

Annabel Thomas: Absolutely essential! It is the principle on which we are founded, central to our whole philosophy and deeply embedded within our team. I believe it is incumbent on any modern business to design the business around these principles – it is clear that we need to move and act quickly to combat climate change. This approach has influenced almost every stage in our production process from using local timber as a renewable source of energy for distillation, buying 100% Scottish organic barley to creating a closed loop cooling pond for our cooling water. We also bottle in 100% recycled clear glass – this was an industry first and saves 40% of the carbon emissions in its product per bottle.

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How does the Scottish landscape and environment influence the production of Nc´nean whisky?

Annabel Thomas: On the one hand, completely, and on the other hand, not at all! We are located in such a beautiful, remote and wild part of the world that serves as much of the inspiration for continuous improvement in our sustainability. We also make a botanical spirit which includes several herbs and plants foraged from the local area (which is then combined with our new make spirit to create a really delicious spirit, in the style of a gin). But on the other hand, I am not much of a believer in some of the myths created around Scotch – and in particularly the emphasis on the water, or the regions of production seem to me to be misleading or overly complicated. We are technically in the Highlands region, but I’m not sure our whisky is typical of that!

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As a woman, how did you manage to succeed in such a traditionally male-dominated industry, and what challenges did you overcome along the way?

Annabel Thomas: I think I have been lucky not to face too many challenges specifically because I am female (though we have faced many many challenges!). The industry is an incredibly friendly place and I have always felt welcomed by everyone – men and women. And whilst there are not many women in senior roles, there are perhaps more women in the industry than people realise.

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For distribution in Germany you cooperate Kirsch Whisky. What impact does this partnership have on Nc´nean Whisky’s business?

Annabel Thomas: We have a fantastic partnership with Kirsch and have benefitted hugely from their knowledge of the German market. They are also fun and supportive to work with as a team!

Your Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky struck gold with 95 points at the highly regarded International Wine and Spirits Competition. Congratulations! What does this mean to you and your team? And how did you celebrate?

Annabel Thomas: It is always fantastic to receive these lovely validations of our hard work – from the care the team take in the distillation and looking after our casks to the skill our blender, Matt, we love it!

nc nean team

What does the future hold for Nc´nean Whisky and what plans do you have for new products or developments in production?

Annabel Thomas: We are still early on our journey and are focused largely on spreading the Nc’nean word far and wide – we’re about to launch in the US and will consider a few countries in Asia after that. We obviously have lots of fun experiments still in the warehouse too which we are looking forward to sharing with the world as they reach maturation – be that more unique yeast trials or some interesting cask types. Watch this space…

In conclusion: If you had to convince a whisky novice to try Nc´nean whisky, what would be your top three arguments for this exceptional whisky?

Annabel Thomas: It’s delicious, pairs brilliantly with soda water, and you’ll be doing great things for the plant at the same time.

Nc’nean Distillery | Website | Instagram | Facebook

+++ We thank Annabel Thomas for the open and very interesting interview! If you too have an interesting brand, then we should talk. Just send us an email with the subject “about-drinks interview” to – we look forward to hearing from you! +++

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