Spirited Away: Inside Scotland’s First Organic Whisky Distillery


On the rugged coast of Scotland’s West Highlands, Nc’nean Distillery blends traditional whisky–making techniques with eco–innovation.

Annabel Thomas isn’t afraid of change. After a life–altering sip on a trip to Islay, she swapped London office for Scottish cellar, setting up an organic distillery at her family’s remote farm in Drimnin, on the Morvern peninsula of the West Highlands. Her goal: to become a net–zero carbon emissions spirits producer. “I felt there wasn’t enough focus on sustainability in the industry.”

January 19, 2023
A woman smelling a glass of whisky
A barrel of whisky from the Nc’nean Distillery
Every autumn, Nc’nean releases a special edition whisky blended by a staff member – “Quiet Rebels: Annabel,” inspired by Thomas, kicked off the series last year.
The exterior of the Bar at the Nc’nean Distillery in Scotland
A woman walking through the grassy landscapes of Scotland

Only four years after beginning production in 2017, Nc’nean made history as the first distillery in the United Kingdom to reach net–zero, a milestone achieved nearly 20 years ahead of the Scottish industry target of 2040 thanks to environmentally conscious practices, such as renewable timber energy, a rainwater cooling pond and 100 percent recycled glass bottles. “I’m incredibly proud of our small team, who have put their hearts and souls into overcoming the barriers to creating a delicious whisky with the smallest possible footprint,” says Thomas.

Two staff members of the Nc’nean Distillery
A bottle of Nc'nean organic whisky being served in two glasses
Grains being made into whisky
A woman at a door outside of the Nc’nean Distillery

Bringing in state–of–the–art distilling equipment to the rural peninsula was a major investment – and risk – but one that Thomas felt confident in. The brand’s flagship Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky comes to life through the slow and gentle fermentation of organic Scottish barley, distilled and then blended from select batches of Nc’nean’s 3,000–plus cask collection, made up of two types of barrels – bourbon and STR (shaved, toasted, re–charred).

A man rolling a barrel of Nc’nean whisky
A deer standing amongst the grassy hills of Scotland

Water is a major factor in the environmental sustainability of whisky production since the distilling process, specifically the cooling step, is very water intensive. Traditionally, water would be gathered from a high–energy cooling tower, but instead, Thomas decided to dig a large pond on site, which acts as a natural water–cooling system. Another creative no–waste solution: Remains of the organic barley grains are fed to cows at the farm next door and liquid leftover from the distilling process is used as soil fertilizer.

A woman holding a yellow flower in front of a manmade pond


When You Go

Scotland’s West Highlands

People enjoying the views of Scotland from picnic tables at the top of a hill
The picturesque Isle of Iona, located across the Isle of Mull from Oban, is known for its beautiful beaches and iconic abbey.


Just a half–hour drive from Nc’nean Distillery, Castle View Bed and Breakfast has well–appointed guest rooms that overlook the property’s garden or the Sound of Mull. Fuel up with a traditional Scottish breakfast of Cumberland sausage, hashbrown, mushrooms and eggs, then spend the day hiking, cycling or castle–hopping. Call ahead to visit Nc’nean and join a tour (offered from Monday to Friday or for private groups upon request).


In Lochaline, The Whitehouse Restaurant is a cozy eatery with a daily–changing tasting menu of up to six courses, each featuring seasonal ingredients that are foraged and regionally sourced.

Plan stops along the Mull and Iona Food Trail to experience the best of local Hebredean food products, from farm–raised lamb to home–baked goods and artisan cheeses.


A short ferry ride away, on the Isle of Mull, Calgary Bay is home to Art in Nature, a woodland walking trail that meanders amongst various sculptures, carvings and art installations.

Oban Distillery, founded in 1794, is one of the smallest whisky producers in Scotland. Its 14–year–old single malt, with notes of fruit, honeyed spice and smoke, was named one of six Classic Malts representing the Western Highlands region.