Ncn’ean Distillery Visit & Oban: West Coast Whisky Feis by Paul Mclean- Scotch Whisky News

As a part of our Oban whisky weekend, 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.

Reay here at the condensers at Drimnin distillery

Reay at the condensers at Ncn’ean Distillery

Ncn’ean distillery    

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 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 expects to release its first single malt whisky in 2020, when the spirit is three years old. In the meantime.

the view to Mull from the Drimnin still room

I drove there this time (not again folks!) fae Oban where we were staying, 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 arrived early – I usually do – to be greeted warmly 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 here. 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 the shop tour, fantastic to be there on my own with nae time limit. We dondered back to the start where I was given a drivers cocktail, nae 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 – details soon on our website

Review by Paul McLean;


Andy Liz and Paul at Oban whisky fest 2017

Andy, Liz & Paul at Oban Whisky Fest 2017

Oban: West Coast Whisky Feis

Where? My hometown, Oban, gateway to the isles and the capital of seafood in Scotland.  It’s only a few hundred yards from Oban Distillery, where you are surrounded by great pubs, food outlets, shops . Just over the water on Mull is another distillery; Tobermory, with an excellent pub within spittin’ distance, owned by a pal of ours, Macgochans Bar. When? From 12pm – 6pm, at Oban’s Skipinnish Cèilidh House.  What?  West Coast Whisky Feis, the brainchild of local drinks retailer Euan, Oban Whisky and Fine Wines, good pals of ours by the way (I think everyone in the drinks industry are friends!).  Skipinnish Ceilidh House will host a range of exhibits from west coast distilleries and food stalls highlighting local producers. Euan Finlayson, owner of Oban Whisky and Fine Wines, said, “We wanted to create an event that showing off the incredible whiskies that the west coast has to offer. Ticket holders received a dram glass and will be able to take samples from all of the exhibitors. There will also be a nosing competition where attendees can attempt to identify various whiskies by smell alone, with a bottle of single malt whisky up for grabs. Samples are included in the event ticket price and master classes are available for an additional fee. Tickets were £30, incredible value considering the amount of drams available.

Ah, nothing like going home, especially when there is a whisky fest on in town! That’s exactly what I did, with partner in crime Liz. Being born some twenty odd years ago (quiet Liz) just doon the road in Connel, I love any time I go back home, on tour with guests, with Liz or on my own. This time, Liz and myself went there for a special reason, friends of ours, Whisky Fix – a company specialising in Single Malt Scotch Whisky. THURSDAY a good start, I love the direction we are away to – west coast, and to be sure Drimnin. Why? To check out a new distillery. But not only that, but a wee bit of my clan history to boot. St. Columba’s Chapel. The Chapel and Drimnin Castle. The Maclean clan maintained control over the Sound of Mull and its adjacent lands through strategically located castles stretching from Mingary on Ardnamurchan to Duart on Mull. Drimnin Distillery – now that is another blog …

one of our favourites tables thanks danielle for the drams

Was it worth going? Just try and stop us next year! It was better than good, as a first Oban whisky fest it was a resounding success, more people than we expected, both sides of the tables! Lots of excellent drams on offer, we did our best to try as many as possible, just for our education you understand. We arrived 12 noon and left just around 6pm. It was that good. Lots of people there we knew from distilleries and bottlers, great food (free) on offer also, the smoked salmon was excellent. We took lots of photos, too many for a blog so catch them on facebook – link from the website.

2018 fest. Gather your strength and gather your pennies … there will be another superb whisky festival in Oban in July next year, we will be there and it would nice to see as many friends as possible.  We will be offering tours around the fest, standard tour – accommodation, ticket etc, then a very special tour, a distillery tour BY BOAT to three west coast distilleries, fest ticket, accommodation and transport from Glasgow – this also includes 3 other distillery visits, a whisky dinner and tasting, all to be online soon. If you can’t wait for news, email us at

Review Paul McLean

best dram of the day maybe at Oban whisky fest 2017

Best dram of the Day!

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