As a part of our Oban whisky weekend (see blog) , we included a visit to the new Drimnin Distillery; Scotland’s ‘first’ 100% organic single malt Scotch whisky distillery has opened on a remote farm estate in the Highlands.
Ncn’ean Distillery (pronounced Nook-knee-anne), aim to produce a ‘young, light’ style of spirit. Ncn’ean began producing spirit in March this year. Its’ name is an abbreviation of Neachneohain, a witch-queen in Scots Gaelic folklore who was also referred to as ‘Queen of the Spirits’. It is to be found on the remote, historic Drimnin Estate, – formerly known under its working title of Drimnin Distillery – it will produce just under 100,000 litres of pure alcohol each year.
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 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.
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 Distillery at her family’s estate came to her. 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. Ncn’ean Distillery expect to release its’ first single malt whisky in 2020.
I drove there from Oban, a 3 hour plus drive through beautiful scenery, single track roads and a ferry all the way to Lochaline, from here, a dusty track of 10 miles – the longest ten miles of my life. I was warmly greeted by Riona Whyte, wife of Reay and local girl (Mull). “Sit doon, sit doon, do you want tea or coffee?” A superb tea came along with a whisky cake – the best “drivers share” I have ever had. A quick chat, questions and answers, all given right away, these guys know exactly what they are doing. The tour; get this folks, the stills were made by Speyside Cooperage!!! Aye. The washbacks are insulated, mash tun uses 3 waters at different temperatures with 1 hour between, with 2 sets of condensers, larger than normal.
A great all round tour, fantastic to be there on my own with no time limit. We dondered back to the start where I was given a drivers cocktail, no alcohol, which was beautiful by the way. Can I thank Riona for her time and chat, grand stuff. Also, I would suggest not arriving by car, rather, do it by boat – now there is another story, briefly; we will be offering a whisky distillery tour by boat next year.
Review by Paul McLean