N

Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Can I escape the weight of history?

Though I don’t have any personal history with Nc’nean, I guess you could say that I have inherited some. In my capacity as editor of Malt, I am the custodian of all the reviews published on this site. That corpus includes highs and lows; while I might not agree with each reviewer’s specific assessment of a given whisky, I respect all of them individually.

Thus, when a bottle of Nc’nean organic single malt whisky landed on my doorstep (courtesy of their U.S. distributor ImpEx, which has just launched the whisky stateside), I delved into the Malt archives for any mention of the distillery. I turned up this piece by Mark, in which he and Adam went back to basics by tasting Nc’nean’s new make, following less-than-glowing reviews of the company’s commercial product.

It’s a great read, with many interesting observations well beyond what’s in the glass. It also provides a good deal of detail about the history of the distillery and their production methods, which I will not re-hash here. Rather, I’ll reproduce this snippet from the press release announcing the arrival of this whisky on American shores:

“Founded by Annabel Thomas, Nc’nean began distilling in March 2017, putting innovation and sustainability at the forefront of its ethos. It is the only fully organic working whisky distillery in Scotland and is powered by 100% renewable energy, resulting in verified net zero status for carbon emissions from its own operations (scopes 1 and 2). Its bottles are made from 100% recycled glass – a first in the Scotch Whisky industry – which saves 40% of the carbon produced compared with using virgin glass.”

Graham has previously meditated on sustainability in whisky; please read his excellent dissertation on the topic, in which he praises Nc’nean for their thoughtful approach to sustainability.

As with many things, Europe (including Scotland) seems to be well ahead of America in their sustainability efforts. That’s not to say that the progress is uniform (on that side of the Atlantic, nor on this side), but I struggle to recall an American distillery that has touted it sustainability bona fides as forcefully as Nc’nean has.

It’s important to do things well in addition to doing good, though. Thus, my vector of approach for this review will principally be to consider the whisky in the glass, with reference to the particular information provided by the distillery… and boy, is there quite a lot of it.

The landing page for the Nc’nean single malt states:

“Smooth and elegant, our core whisky is easy-going and delicious however you drink it, with flavours of citrus, peach, apricot and spice. Those lovely citrus and peach flavours come from our spirit, the spice from our STR casks and the signature body and texture comes from our 100% organic barley.”

Visitors are invited to select a batch from a drop-down menu. I chose this batch, KS17 (indicated by the label around the neck of the very attractive bottle), which took me to another page chock-full of the specifics for this batch. Before even tasting a drop of the whisky, this approach (similar to that used by Waterford) already leaves a metaphorical good taste in the mouth of this incorrigible whisky nerd.

Starting at the start: the casks used for this batch were filled between January 2019 to April 2019, and… hold the phone! XX/XX/XXXX? Nc’nean clarifies: “We have to hide this as Scotch whisky regulations only allow us to show the age of the youngest part of the whisky.” Fair play, and I appreciate the information. The label informs me this whisky was aged for “a minimum of 3 years,” also known as the legal minimum to be declared Scotch whisky.

It was bottled between January and March of 2023 (the math checks out), making the youngest components of this a hair under four years old. 100% organic Scottish barley was fermented with Anchor and Fermentis yeasts. A helpful pie chart shows us the mix of casks:

Now, I’m not sure I have any direct experience with STR casks. As always, Graham has beaten me to the punch; please read this review if you’re interested in a potted history of this cask type. The CliffsNotes version is that this is a style employed to supercharge the flavor development of young spirit, of which this is undoubtedly one.

That’s certainly coloring my expectations going into the tasting, particularly in light of the price. $95 buys one a lot of Scotch whisky, even here in the U.S., disadvantaged as we are by transportation costs and import taxes. Is this a fair comparison? Probably not. Small distilleries have diseconomies of scale (less mature whisky to absorb overhead costs); in this case, particularly, Nc’nean’s commitment to organic raw materials and the aforementioned sustainability practices burden them with costs not borne by others.

And yet, I write from the perspective of the consumer trying to get the most bang for his or her buck. How to square this circle? I’ll try to be fair to Nc’nean in my assessment, focusing on the intrinsic qualities of the whisky in balance with the aforementioned considerations, rather than treating this as a head-to-head against, say Glenfarclas 17 Years Old.

Final specifics: this is bottled at a strength of 46% ABV, in a 700 ml bottle. As mentioned above, this bottle was provided to me free of cost, which will not influence my notes or score.

Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Whisky Batch KS17 – Review

Color: Medium-pale gold.

On the nose: The expected youthfully malty note is there, but some patient concentration reveals other aromatic layers. Ripe stone fruit, apple juice, an herbal nip of eucalyptus, and some delightful notes of baking spice. There’s a mineral current running underneath this; giving the whisky more time allows a gooey, sweet, and smoky note of marshmallows roasted over the campfire to emerge. Based on my prior experience with toasted barrels, I’m going to tentatively attribute this to the STR cask influence.

In the mouth: This starts subtly, but quickly a pert stoniness meets a slightly tannic woody note. This is mostly malt in the middle of the mouth, with perhaps the faintest accent of mint leaf. That wood comes back in a yet more tannic form toward the back of the mouth, with some peppery spice accents thrown in for good measure. The finish is perhaps the weakest aspect of the experience; the whisky becomes dilute and performs a hasty disappearing act, leaving only a gentle, residual heat and the mildest of aftertastes.

Conclusions:

Nothing wrong with this, in terms of off notes or awkwardness. It doesn’t feel rushed, but it is evidently young whisky, having most of the aspects you’d associate with that. I could see this being good for warming up the palate ahead of a tasting of more mature, higher ABV whiskies.

How, then, to score this? I usually think about being +/- a 5/10 score based on whether I’d purchase another bottle at retail price. Going in, I knew this wasn’t going to be price competitive with whiskeys even triple the age, if not more. Judged on its own merits, it isn’t.

However, buying a bottle of whisky from an up-and-coming distillery is, in some senses, an investment in that distillery’s future. Sales of younger whisky generate cash and buy the company time to age other barrels further.

In this case, I can say that while I wouldn’t necessarily buy another bottle of this specific expression, it does make me very curious to try others from Nc’nean, particularly as they increase in maturity.

Mixing all of that up in my mental blender, I’m concluding that an average score feels the most fair.

Score: 5/10

In an industry full of varying degrees of chicanery, it’s nice to be able to support a distillery doing things the right way. I’m hopeful that this approach will one day produce whisky that tastes as good as buying it feels.

CategoriesSingle Malt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *