Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Neocneohain / Nicneven
Nc’nean is a whisky distillery on the Morvern Peninsula in the Western Highlands of Scotland. It was built with sustainability at its heart, running on renewable energy, recycling distillery by-products and even bottling its whisky in 100% recycled glass. Right from the beginning, Nc’nean embarked upon a quest to produce its single malt in harmony with the planet, an ethos that ties in with their 2022 release of the Nc’nean Huntress single malt…
The distillery is named after Nicneven, a character plucked from Scottish Gaelic folklore. It is said that Nicneven herself is named after the Gaelic, Neachneohain, which apparently means daughter of the divine (though I must confess, I wasn’t really able to make any sense of that translation in my, admittedly very limited, understanding of the language). The origins of the story of Nicneven are unclear, however. The earliest written mention dates from 1580 and a passage written by Alexander Montgomerie, court poet to King James VI.
In a written duel with another poet, Montgomerie suggested that his opponent was the offspring of a despicable union between an elf and an ape. He claimed that the hideous child had been abandoned only to be found by three witches who took it to Nicneven, the Queen of their kind. Nicneven then led the coven in an unholy ritual that would dedicate the life of the baby to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. As roasts go, it’s pretty colourful, you have to admit.
Later writings seem to adapt the character to suit their own narrative (writers!) and Nicneven was often portrayed as another version of Hecate herself. In this guise, she is described as the goddess of faeries, witches and of the changing of the seasons. She is variously described as the Queen of Spirits, a goddess of wild animals and of the hills, rivers and moon. She is also described, as a Huntress.
Of course, oral history, particularly in Celtic culture reaches back further than the written word of a 16th-century courtier and it seems likely that Nicneven was known long before the word was ever committed to parchment. Some scholars even believe that a real woman that bore the name was executed for witchcraft and inspired the legend. As these things tend to do, the story grew arms and legs and soon Nicneven was described not just as a witch but as the Queen or Goddess of witches. Who said burning at the stake was bad for your career trajectory?
Wherever the name comes from, there’s no doubt it suits the distillery. After all, who is better than the Huntress, the Queen of the Witches and Goddess of the Seasons to guide a distillery that places the greatest importance on respecting Mother Earth?
Nc’nean Huntress 2022
The Huntress is bottled from casks filled in August 2018 and emptied in March 2022. It’s bottled 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: Much like the Quiet Rebels dram I reviewed previously (here), the nose centres around the character of the barley. There’s dry grass, butterscotch, sweet pastries, muesli and biscuits. Also some summery fruit notes. Apple, pear, lemon, pineapple. Almond flakes. Coconut.
Taste: Honey and digestive biscuits. Apple turnover and danish pastries. Black pepper. Some citrus in there. Some young oak. Malty finish with more honey.
Thoughts: A young, barley-centric single malt with a light, fresh character. I think my own personal tastes would normally be drawn to something a little more dense and robust but I can imagine a time and place where this would hit the spot beautifully. Most likely on a warm, bright day. The bottling strength of 48.5% makes such a difference in cases like this. Reduced to as low as 40%, you get the feeling this whisky would be lost but at its current bottling strength, it achieves a fullness of flavour without ever tipping into the immature heat that can sometimes be found in three / four-year-old whiskies when they’re bottled at cask strength. Light, fruity, floral… if that’s your bag, this is a fine dram.
Price: £85. The price is a bit of a stalling point for me. I understand that doing things the right way, which is what the distillery is attempting with its sustainable approach, comes at a cost – even organic barley costs significantly more than its non-organic counterpart – but even still, the Nc’nean Huntress didn’t do quite enough for me to justify its £85 price tag, pleasant though it was.
For more on Nc’nean visit https://ncnean.com/