Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
The Story of Nc’nean
In this review, I’ll be checking out a sample of Nc’nean Quiet Rebels: Annabel, a single malt from one of Scotland’s newest distilleries. Nc’nean is an interesting project with responsible, sustainable distilling at its heart. For one reason or another, however, I haven’t yet tried any of their drams! Fortunately, a couple of samples crossed my path recently, so it’s time to put that right. But first, a bit of background…
The Drimnin Estate lies on the Morvern Peninsula, overlooking the Sound of Mull. The seed of an idea to build a distillery there began to sprout in 2010 but the project only really shot into life in 2013 when Annabel Thomas, daughter of estate owners Derek and Louise Lewis, gave up her job as a consultant in London and moved to Scotland to run things.
Funding was secured through private investors and government grants and building work was eventually completed in time to have production commence in 2017. The project was given the working title of Drimnin Distillery but shortly before launch, it was decided that the name should differentiate the distillery from the Estate’s other businesses. Nc’nean, a name inspired by Gaelic folklore of Neachneohain or Nicnevin, the Witch Queen, was chosen.
Nc’nean Distillery was designed with sustainability in mind. Wood chips from a local forest are fed to a Biomass Boiler and 99.97% of by-products are recycled as animal and plant feed that is used on the estate. In production, the distillery uses 100% organic Scottish barley. Experiments with unusual yeast strains during the fermentation process and a high, narrow spirit cut help to promote a light, fruity spirit. Maturation, meanwhile, takes place on-site in dunnage warehouses. Temperature control allows the team greater control of the flavours created while the spirit sleeps in the oak. Ex-bourbon and red wine casks are the preferred choices, with the odd sherry cask thrown in for good measure.
The first Nc’nean single malt was launched in 2020. The whisky featured in this review, however, was bottled in 2021.
Nc’nean Quiet Rebels: Annabel
This single malt was the first in a series that celebrates the people who make Nc’nean whisky what it is. Naturally, the series debut was named after Annabel, the driving force behind the entire project. The casks were filled between June 2017 and May 2018 and bottled in October ’21 at 48.5%.
*Full disclosure: The sample tasted for this review was included in a Drinks by the Dram Advent Calendar that was sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: The nose is barley-forward with the character of the grain front and centre. There are aromas of oatcakes and honey. Straw. Also some bright fruit notes. Almost white-wine-like. Lemon, grapes, melon, pineapple. Vanilla buttercream. Digestive biscuits.
Taste: Honey, toffee, fudge… mingling with some green fruits. Apples and pears. A wee bit of dry oakiness comes through mid-palate with some gentle peppery spice. The barley character still forms the backbone. Some more of the lemon and pineapple now. I felt a splash of water compromised the mouthfeel and maybe even muted the intensity of the flavour too much. It was better beforehand.
Thoughts: A whisky that places its raw ingredients centre-stage – and why not? What’s the point of using organic barley if you aren’t going to showcase the flavours it gives the whisky? There’s a lightness and a freshness to this whisky that’s very evocative. One nose and it’s easy to conjure images of barley fields, blowing gently in a summer breeze. Would make for a lovely delicate little soda highball – if you can afford to pour soda into a £65 dram, that is. I could see that being very refreshing on a warm day, though. Perhaps it lacks a little something special? The sort of unique quirk that makes a whisky stand out from a crowd?
Price: £65. I’m sure I read somewhere that going organic can double the cost of a distillery’s barley intake. If that’s the case, the £65 price tag on this bottle is understandable. Even with that in mind, though, I’m not sure it really grabbed me enough to have me rushing to pay the price. The Nc’nean Quiet Rebels: Annabel is a good quality whisky without being particularly memorable.
For more on Nc’nean visit https://ncnean.com/