Meet Annabel Thomas, the Founder of Nc'nean Distillery - Lassou Blog

Nc'nean is an independent, organic whisky distillery that exists to create experimental spirits and pioneer sustainable production.

Annabel Thomas started Nc’nean to change the way the world thinks about whisky from Scotland. Her goal was to create a whisky that could exist in harmony with this planet we call home. She spent four years raising funds and building the Nc’nean distillery from the ground up on the west coast of Scotland. Annabel started distilling in 2017, she is running the entire operation on renewable energy, and recently launched her first organic single malt whisky. 

We reached out to Annabel and asked her about the sustainability, distillery future goals, and the best ways to enjoy Nc'nean. 

How did you come up with the idea for the Nc’nean distillery? Have you always been into whisky?

It started as a family idea – the distillery is on my parents’ farm on the west coast of Scotland. To begin with I wasn’t really into whisky, but I volunteered that I would go to Islay to do some research and low and behold, not only did I get into drinking whisky just before that trip, but the bones of the inspiration for Nc’nean as it is today appeared! I did several distillery tours in a row and felt like they were all saying a very similar thing – ‘we’re doing things the way they’ve always been done’. Whilst that is a really important part of what Scotch is, I felt like there was a need for distilleries who were also more forward looking, who put sustainability first and were a bit more experimental. Since then, I haven’t looked back! I left my job in London and have spent the last 8 years building Nc’nean from the ground up – and of course drinking lots of whisky along the way!

Congratulations on becoming the first Net Zero Distillery in the UK! It’s a big step in your green journey and a great inspiration for other spirit brands. Tell us, please, what are the challenges of producing planet-positive spirits?

Thanks! Well, the challenges are indeed broad, and that is why not everyone is doing it, and frankly why we find ourselves in this global mess. The challenges are different for every company, but for us the main ones are:

  • Managing our biomass boiler which powers our distillery – it is like driving a tanker instead of a speed boat
  • The cost: everything is more expensive – e.g. organic barley and the boiler itself
  • Trying to change the way big established industries operate as a small brand – as an example, when we were trying to source our whisky bottles all the large glass manufacturers in the UK said it wasn’t possible to get a clear glass bottle with a very high % of recycled glass. This is because there is a perception that premium spirits must be presented in ‘flint clear’ glass. We finally found a company who could help us with 100% recycled glass, but this was just by luck – we are too small at the moment to influence the way big corporates operate which is frustrating.

Nc’nean momentum is super inspiring – what’s the distillery’s next goal?

We have lots of things on the horizon, sometimes too many! The main ones are:
1. Launching our first seasonal release this autumn – I’m particularly excited about this one! We can’t tell you any more about it yet, but we can’t wait to share it with the world.
2. Continuing to improve our carbon footprint and overall sustainability: from investigating new technologies to sourcing a viable ‘refill’ for our glass bottles.
3. Expanding the Nc’nean love into new countries – we are in a handful of countries in Europe now but want to expand that to cover most of the continent, and might think about heading to the US next.

What motivates and inspires you?

I talked above about how Nc’nean came about, but what motivates me more now is our amazing team at Nc’nean and our customers. I feel so lucky to have an awesome group of people around me who have taken on the Nc’nean mission as their own. And I also absolutely love hearing the feedback from our consumers – knowing that people out there really appreciate what we are doing makes all the hard work, sweat and tears worthwhile!

How do you recommend drinking your amazing spirits?

For our botanical spirit I recommend it either with tonic and bitters or in a simple cocktail like a Negroni. (For me, it makes the best Negroni ever!). For our whisky, I absolutely love whisky and soda, which we call Whisky Six: two parts whisky, four parts soda, a sprig of mint. Drink at 6pm!

 Nc'nean Organic Single Malt - Shop on Lassou

What are recent trends you’ve noticed in whisky drinking culture?

I think there is a slow, but growing trend for more people to drink whisky, which I love! We are very slowly breaking down the long established barriers that whisky is for white, older men to drink neat after dinner in front of a log fire and getting acceptance that it can be drunk mixed, in cocktails and by anyone. I hope this is something we continue to see more and more of.

If you could send a bottle of Nc’nean Organic Single Malt whisky to anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?

Ooh, tricky question! Maybe Nelson Mandela. I studied African history at university, with a particular focus on race relations and then lived in Johannesburg for 3 months. What Mandela managed to achieve is amazing – his role in ending apartheid, but more importantly establishing reconciliation in South Africa is just incredible. I have no idea if he drank whisky, but it could be my small way of saying how inspired I am by him.

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