Review: Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky Is As Good For The Planet As It Is For Your Spirits Shelf

The words "organic" and "sustainable" are always buzzy and eye-catching in the food world. Still, more recently, they are making their way into the alcohol zeitgeist with furor and importance. Wine brand Kind of Wild, an organic and sustainable winery co-founded by Katie Lee, focuses on the ingredients and the environment throughout the winemaking process. As these words continue to be splashed across grocery stores ads and alcohol bottles, it begs the question: What do they mean, and more importantly, can I believe it?

Nc'nean, a distillery tucked away in the Westerly Highlands of Scotland, uses these words continuously to describe the spirits it produces and the distillery itself. The difference, however, is that describing its spirits and liqueurs as "organic" and "sustainable" isn't done for attention or distract from a spirit that may not be as good in the glass as it is on the label. Nc'nean's Organic Single Malt Whisky is a testament to several principles: leaning into the environment you are a part of, truthfully making a product using organic ingredients and sustainable practices, and trusting nature as your guide.

Opened in 2017 by Annabel Thomas and producing its first bottle in 2020, Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky only uses organic Scottish barley in the distillery, powering its two copper pot stills strictly with renewable energy sources. The distillery also produces a very small carbon footprint, describing its total for a year as "less than one return plane journey from London to New York."

What is Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky?

Nc'nean's Organic Single Malt Whisky is Nc'nean's core expression, serving as the foundation for its "forward-thinking whisky" mentality. It is made from 100% organic Scottish barley, matured in red wine barrels, American whiskey barrels, and a small number of sherry casks. Distilled in copper pot stills, it is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% ABV) for a smooth whisky that is easy to sip while remaining elegant and refined.

Maintaining its "forward-thinking whisky" motto, Nc'nean's production is like a good old-fashioned beef stew: done slowly to achieve maximum flavor. Everything is done unhurriedly and carefully to ensure that each drop of whisky from the still is treated with the utmost respect and admiration. According to the brand, the malted barley is mashed slowly, fermented slowly, and distilled slowly; it even rests for an hour after coming off the still to develop flavor and is filtered through husks for another 20 minutes for added purity. The fermentation process takes up to 114 hours, with the final result being the purest, fruitiest part of the spirit distillation.

In addition to the liquid in the bottle, everything surrounding Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky is impressive. Each bottle from the distillery is certified organic by the BDA, part of the U.K.'s Organic Control Body. The whisky is made in a verified net zero emission facility and bottled in a 100% recycled glass bottle.

Where can you buy Nc'nean, and how much does it cost?

If you're a U.K. resident, you can rejoice in knowing that Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky is just a few online clicks away, available to purchase directly from the website for £54.95 (approximately $70 for those in the U.S. who don't want to look up the conversion rate). If you happen to be stopping into the distillery, you can pick one up right on-site. For European residents in Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Poland, and Ukraine, Nc'nean is available in many bars and restaurants as well as specialty spirits shops and online retailers.

Residents in the United States can find Nc'nean in retail outlets in Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, Iowa, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii, Delaware, Washington DC, and Maryland for about $100 per 700 milliliter bottle. Canadian residents can find Nc'nean in retail outlets in Alberta and for home delivery, as well as in all SAQ stores throughout Quebec and for home delivery across the province.

This is undoubtedly a big purchase for someone looking to try organic whisky for the first time, regardless of where you live or your local currency. We recommend, if available to you, investing in "A Taste of Nc'Nean" instead for a much more reasonable £21.95. The small tasting set includes two Fever Tree mixers, one 50-milliliter organic botanical spirit, and one 50-milliliter bottle of the Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Tasting notes

Scotch tasting, like so many things, is very subjective. And while no two palates and no two tastes for whisky are alike, Nc'nean is a Scotch that we believe is something of a great equalizer. Unlike many Scotch whiskies that focus heavily on smoky flavor notes, Nc'nean is far easier to sip on, even for the novice sipper. As with any spirit, we recommend nosing it first to really get a feel for what's going on in the glass. 

On the first inhale, Nc'nean is toasty, with aromas of vanilla, caramel, and wood. After a swirl in the glass and a second deep inhale, there are gentle pear notes, with some lingering red berries as well.

Nc'nean has a lot of flavor on the palate but is a gentle sip. Notes of pineapple, cherries, apricots, and butterscotch are present, with a bit of a spicier black pepper note on the back end and a sweet, smooth finish. We recommend enjoying this neat, but if you prefer a more mellow sip, a single ice cube is more than welcome in the glass.

Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky vs. Slow Hand Single Malt Organic Whiskey

Nc'nean's Organic Single Malt Whisky is impressive, to be sure, and comparing it to a similar whiskey can help you better understand how it stands up in the larger brown spirits market. We chose an organic American single malt whiskey from California's Greenbar Distillery to do so.

Across the pond and then some, Slow Hand Single Malt Whiskey is made using 100% organic malted barley, fermented cool and slow, then distilled further. It is matured in white oak vats with house-toasted staves from six kinds of wood: white oak, hickory, maple, mulberry, red oak, and grape. Because of the use of toasted barrels and wood varietals, the flavor profile becomes more dynamic and complex, with dark fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar notes as opposed to Nc'nean's lighter and more fruit-forward palate.

Both bottles are made with the environment in mind. Slow Hand uses lightweight glass and 100% post-consumer waste paper. Additionally, Slow Hand plants one tree for every bottle sold, giving back to the environment it uses to produce the spirit in the first place.

Pricewise, Slow Hand is the more economical choice, clocking in at a very reasonable $42.99 a bottle compared to Nc'nean's $100 bottle. If the organic label on the bottle is your real selling point and the $100 price tag is too much, we recommend opting for Slow Hand, an equally enjoyable sip at a much more palatable price point.

Is it worth it?

Without a doubt, a good Scotch whisky is an investment. A quality product will come with a hefty price tag. It's true that a higher price tag doesn't always mean a better product; in the case of Nc'nean, the superior quality and high price tag do, in fact, go hand in hand. Plus, on the spectrum of Scotch whisky pricing, Nc'nean certainly falls into a lesser price category than many of its multi-aged Scottish, Japanese, and Irish siblings, some of which, like The Macallan Horizon, can go as high as $50,000 for a single bottle.

If you are an avid Scotch or whiskey drinker and can get your hands on Nc'nean based on its current availability, this is undoubtedly a bottle to invest in. Not only is the liquid in the bottle impressive, but the story behind it is also remarkable. The focus on sustainability, the attention paid to using organic and local ingredients, and environmentally-friendly practices to produce every element of the whisky somehow add to each sip's rich, unique flavor.