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The West Coast Mainland Revival: Ardnamurchan & Nc’Nean

The development and ‘shining star status’ of both classic and new West Highland distilleries is worth your attention as a whisky drinker. 

When I first started out in the whisky world I was confused as to why nobody, even when trying to escape tax officers, didn’t flee to the West Coast of Scotland to start up their distilleries. Oban Distillery and Ben Nevis Distillery have historically dominated the landscape of the Western Highlands. They are must-visit spot destinations for people on the West Highland Way or on the last leg of the North Coast 500. Now you could say that the life-changing views on the west coast of Scotland are more than enough to warrant visiting. But now, as an added bonus, two new distilleries have set up and made the West Coast mainland their home. Let’s talk about them. 

Ardnamurchan 

The style of liquid that the Ardnamurchan Distillery has been producing and has bottled in the last few years is classic Highland, but with a West Coast flavor making its way through. Not only is the whisky great, but the drive to the distillery from Fort William is one of the most beautiful journeys you will experience in whisky. 

Founded in 2014 and coming online in the same year, the peat level is around 35 ppm pre-distillation and the facility produces around 500,000 litres of liquid a year. This is then all matured in a selection of hogsheads, refill casks, and octaves. All kinds of fun and experimental things. 

Most Ardnamurchan you’ll try is a combination of 50% unpeated and 50% peated barley, distilled at the distillery, no outsourcing, and then aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks. 

Now, I know that doesn’t sound too different from most scotch distilleries. However, those of you who have tried Ardnamurchan will recognize the saltiness, the green nature of currently young whiskies, and how maturation in ex-bourbon casks allows you to get this balance of partly peated, partly unpeated whisky. It is exactly what I want from a West Highland distillery.

For those of you who have been able to experience their sherry and rum cask releases, you, no doubt, will have noticed the cask flavors dominate the profile and take you on a stunning journey of flavor from across the world. 

I’d recommend picking up any of the core A/D releases which are what core Ardnamurchan whisky values are all about. If you’re looking to treat yourself then I’d chase down the sherry cask or the rum cask releases. The rum cask got a lot of flak for not being ‘interesting enough’. I respectfully disagree. The AD Rum Cask is probably the best rum cask whisky I’ve ever had at such an affordable price. 

Nc’Nean 

Ahead of the curve, and ahead of the whole industry by at least two decades, Nc’Nean has become one of the most fun, modern, ground-breaking, and outgoing manufacturers of scotch whisky on the planet. 

Cast your mind back to 2021. It is not a year most of us want to remember, but for Nc’Nean 2021 was a triumph, having just become the first UK distillery to be net zero. A truly incredible achievement considering that the distillery was only founded in 2013. The distillery is powered by a biomass boiler and now has 100% renewable energy, only uses organic certified barley, and all of the glassware is 100% recycled. 

Founded by Annabel Thomas in 2013, Nc’Nean is a gentler style of Western Highland whisky. However, the spirit has an edge to it that carves itself out as something very unique. 

Since the release of Nc’Nean’s core expression, I have replaced my bottle as soon as it has been emptied. There is something so rounded about the style. Beautiful apricot and cream notes circulate around the top of the glass, but as you work down there is a coastal hint to it, be it sea salt, pine, wet sand, and a gentle mineral quality that always peaks as you swallow the whisky. Even with all of the fun experimental products such as The Huntress Range and the Quiet Rebels Range, the distillery is only producing 100,000 liters of liquid a year. 

The Isle of Mull is visible from the distillery but as beautiful as Mull and the Tobermory Distillery is, it’s worth hanging around the Nc’Nean facilities for a little longer and taking in how delightful this company and liquid is.

Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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