Scotland’s national drink has an image problem that puts women and younger people off it, according to the entrepreneur behind a new whisky that set a world record before its first batch went on general sale.
Annabel Thomas, who quit the London business world to set up Nc’nean Distillery in a remote area of Lochaber, believes the industry needs to recruit a “more balanced workforce” and ensure its marketing reflects and targets a “wide and diverse audience”.
Seven years on from her dramatic career change, the company’s inaugural organic single malt is making its debut on the market today.
Last month, it claimed a record price for the sale of a first bottle from a new distillery, when a mystery buyer paid £41,000 at a charity auction.
Ms Thomas, 36, said a belief that traditional perceptions of Scotch were limiting its appeal, was partly what inspired her to launch the venture.
She added: “The issues are multi-dimensional and very much historical. They include this perception that you can only drink single malt neat, which puts a lot of younger consumers off, and that you have to be old, white and male to enjoy it, which puts everyone else that is not in that category off.
“Both of those statements are, of course, exaggerations and there are plenty of young women who drink whisky. But that image exists in many people’s minds, as proven by the number of times I have been asked, ‘Do you actually like whisky?’
“A man who had spent seven years of his life creating a whisky distillery would not be asked that question.
“It will take time to change, but the whole industry needs to take responsibility for recruiting a more balanced workforce and for ensuring their communications depict and talk to a wide and diverse audience.”
Ms Thomas said Nc’nean, which employs a team of 10, was trying to play its own “admittedly small” part in changing the industry.
“We have a negative gender pay gap, we employ more women than men, and last summer we ran an internship programme for two women to learn what it took to make whisky and run a distillery.”
Creativity and sustainability the hallmarks of growing business
Made from organic Scottish barley, the new Nc’nean single malt is the first UK spirit to be bottled in 100% recycled clear glass.
The independent distillery, built on land at Drimmin, near Lochaline, bought by its founder Annabel Thomas’ parents more than a decade ago, is entirely powered by renewable energy.
Ms Thomas worked as a strategy consultant for global management consultancy firm Bain and Company before moving north to launch the venture in 2013.
She said: “When I left my London job to found Nc’nean in 2013, I wanted to create a distillery that would be known for creativity and lead the way in sustainability.
“At the time, 2020 seemed impossibly far away, and we’ve overcome so many hurdles on the journey so far, but I am incredibly excited to have reached this point.
“But more than that, I feel the quality and taste of our first whisky proves that a focus on the excellence of the spirit, with careful sourcing of barley and yeast, and a slow and gentle fermentation and distillation, creates a whisky that is both delicious and sustainable.”
Its launch follows a crowdfunding campaign that, along with backing from the Scottish Investment Bank and private investors, amassed more than £1.7 million earlier this year to help the business develop and prepare to bring the whisky to market.
Last month’s auction of the first 10 bottles from the distillery raised a total of more than £92,000 for five charities, including Morvern Community Trust.
A small 1,320-bottle run made available exclusively to the distillery’s investors and newsletter subscribers sold out in 36 hours.
The new single malt is described by whisky expert Becky Paskin founder of the OurWhisky website, as a “bright, fruity spirit, beautifully accentuated through maturation in ex-bourbon and wine casks.