The year 2020 saw many young distilleries launch their first whisky, not the least of which was the Nc’nean Organic Single Malt. I missed out on the first batch, but did manage to land a sample of the second one. Their sustainable approach certainly appeals to the imagination, which hopefully translates to some pretty tasty whisky.
I first came across Nc’nean during The Whisky Show in 2018. The now defunct website Scotchwhisky.com (a loss I’ve still not completely processed) hosted a Future Trends Lab. Nc’nean founder Annabel Thomas was part of it and showcased her Botanical Spirit. As a genever enthusiast I was particularly enamored with this rich and floral spirit. Many of the botanicals such as juniper, coriander and angelica also play a prominent role in genever.
So, from that moment on I kept my eye on Nc’nean. When I vacationed near the distillery about six months later, I went out of my way for a visit. And when I say near, that’s a very loose term. Even though I stayed about as close as possible on a nearby peninsula, it still took about 75 minutes to reach the remote distillery. Thankfully it was very much worth the trip.
Finally, in the lead-up to Nc’nean’s launch of their inaugural whisky, I contacted Annabel Thomas for an interview, part of which you can read here. She graciously spent some time talking to me from locked down London. We discussed the distillery’s sustainability, but also how excited she was for the world to finally get to try what she’d been working on for so long.
“This feels like the beginning”, she told me back then. “You built a distillery not just to produce a spirit, but to sell whisky. That is the part were embarking on right now. I’m waiting to see how people react to it. It is nerve wracking. We think the liquid is amazing but what if no one else does? The hard work of getting the message out more clearly and widely starts now.”
Well, she got the message out. Batch after batch of their Organic Single Malt has been released. It’s a blend of 65% STR red wine casks (Shaved, Toasted & Re-charred) and 35% ex-bourbon casks. And now I finally get to try it.
Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Batch 2 (46%, OB, 2020)
Nose: It’s herbal, somewhat floral and green with a touch of resin and juniper at first, followed by nectarines and peaches, but also a whiff of lemon pith. There’s a subtle malty layer with notes of porridge, and then some freshly mown grass also. Finally some icing and vanilla. Pretty attractive. Taste: It has a little less to offer on the palate, although I enjoy the creamy mouthfeel. A sweet, malty arrival, but also butter, almonds and macadamia nuts. Charred oak with subtle touches of fennel and nutmeg. Finally a slight citrus-y note. Finish: Lingering oak, malt and a whiff of peach.
The oak speaks a little too loudly at times, which I would at least partly put down to the STR casks. They are the legacy of Dr. Jim Swan and are used by many young distilleries around the world, as they are designed to impart flavour quickly. I’ve yet to be truly blown away by single malt whisky from such a cask.
That being said, the Nc’nean Organic Single Malt shows promise beyond the cask influence. I’d be curious to see a more naked Nc’nean matured solely in (refill) bourbon casks.