The story of our Botanical Spirit: read on to find out where the idea came from, why it took six months of development to get the recipe right and just exactly why it is not a ‘gin’.
Our first plans for the distillery, dated August 2013, show a gin still in a building that now doesn’t exist. In those early days, gin was still nascent and the idea of making a white spirit ‘early’ in our history seemed attractive. Fast forward four years and by the time we had a distillery up and running gin was booming and quite frankly, we didn’t have anything new to add.
So off we went to make whisky, focusing purely on making the very best ‘new make’ spirit we could. (‘New make’ is the clear spirit produced in the distillery, before we let it age in barrels, and develop whisky’s signature golden colour).
One day, a lovely Japanese lady, Misako Udo, who lives in Edinburgh made the long journey to visit our distillery on the west coast and suggested to me that our new make was so delicious we should bottle it. We are extremely proud of our new make, and it is something we put a lot of focus into as a distillery (more on that another time), but I wasn’t sure it was something anyone would actually buy.
Around the same time I’d been becoming more aware of the natural abundance around the distillery – grasses, flowers, bushes, trees. So I spent a day with local herbalist and all-things-wild guru Clare Holohan and we started to catalogue what grew locally. My favourite of all of these was bog myrtle (below) – an aromatic little bush that grows like a weed around the distillery.
SIX MONTH'S OF DEVELOPMENT
Gradually I put these two ideas together – what if we could combine some of the wonderful herbs and spices (“botanicals”) that grew locally with our new make spirit?
A few fortuitous meetings later we set up a project with Heriot Watt University to develop a recipe with some of their students using our new make and a variety of botanicals. And what a learning curve that was. The first few iterations tasted in all honesty not that great – a slightly herby new make but nothing we’d want to put out in the world.
It was through this process we realised that new make requires special treatment. It is not a normal ‘gin’ process – which takes very very high strength spirit (distilled to the extent that it has very little taste left) and adds botanicals. We were trying to layer botanicals on top of a fruity, malty spirit. So we changed our approach and doubled, sometimes tripled the botanical quantities and added in juniper and coriander, typical of gin. And wow, that was what we were looking for – suddenly we had a complex, balanced, fruity, herby, malty spirit which we felt really showcased both the new make and the botanicals.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A BOTANICAL SPIRIT?
And so became our ‘botanical spirit’ – not in our business plan, and neither did it feature in some rather dry EU law that defines different types of spirit. Said law states that gin must start life as 96% abv ethyl alcohol (the neutral tasting spirit mentioned above) so instead we named our spirit a ‘Botanical Spirit’, a portrait of our landscape: the combination of wild, local botanicals and our pure, fruity, ‘new make’ spirit. There is no official definition of a Botanical Spirit, but the name tends to encompass any spirits that use botanicals as their flavourings but don’t fit any other categories. You can find some others here.
Well, before we start with the casks themselves, let’s look at the distillery. Every distillery has its own story and its own distillation and maturation methods, so it’s good to take an overall look before you get stuck into the individual casks.
For us, it’s really important that our whisky makes the biggest flavour impression with the smallest carbon footprint, and that’s why we only use organic barley, 100% renewable energy, and will bottle your whisky into a 100% recycled glass bottle. The organic barley’s rich soils result in concentrated flavour in the grains, and in our spirit, giving our whisky exceptional body and texture before it even hits the cask.
Owning a cask of Nc’nean single malt also gives you a great excuse to visit Scotland’s beautiful west coast, to see how our whisky family is getting on.
SO, ONTO THE CASKS
We have three cask varieties you can choose from, all sourced by our team to ensure the highest possible standards. All the casks have been seasoned prior to our use of them, which in turn helps each cask develop a unique flavour profile.
Our ex-bourbon casks come mostly from Kentucky – the home of some of the best American whiskies. Maturing our spirit in these barrels gives it flavours of clean toffee, vanilla and orchard fruit. If you are typically a bourbon drinker but enjoy a Scotch, then this is the cask for you.
Our red wine casks have been shaved, toasted and re-charred which caramelises the sugars in the residual wine the wood holds. Maturing your whisky in one of these casks will develop flavours of warming spices and pastries. If you're a fan of richer, spicier single malts, or even heavier bourbons or rye, then this is for you.
And our sherry casks on the other handtaste like roasted nuts and jam. These casks produce truly decadent whiskies, adding viscosity and intensity, as well as flavour. For lovers of fruit forward single malts.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Our casks start from an initial cost of around £3000. Then when you’re cask is ready, you’ll need to pay for bottling, shipping and any duty or taxes in your country of residence. For example, if you purchased an ex-Bourbon cask with 5 years of maturation, you would pay £3000 up front to own the cask. Then when you’re ready to bottle, based on current figures for customers living in the UK, an additional; £3000 in UK duty, £1500 in VAT and £1500 in bottling and shipping. This brings the total estimated cost to £9000.
To put that in perspective, this cask would typically yield around 322 bottles at 46%, making the cost per bottle around £28, which we would expect to retail for a minimum of £50 per bottle.
WHERE WILL MY CASK BE STORED?
Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to re-arrange the furniture. We’ll store your cask in one of our bonded warehouses on site until it’s ready to be bottled. You’re welcome to visit whenever we’re open, just let us know you’re coming so we can ensure the team can spend some time with you.
CAN I PERSONALISE MY CASK?
Of course - we will stencil and paint your cask with a name of your choice, and send you a hand written certificate. But for 2020, we are adding something even more special. This year, to acknowledge the global feeling of hope and change in light of all the recent events, we will be hand-stencilling 'Hope lies in dreams' on the end of each cask of whisky. This quote, one which has stuck with our founder Annabel through the last few months, derives from Jonas Salk's "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams a reality."
CAN I MATURE MY CASK FOR LONGER THAN 5 OR 10 YEARS?
You most certainly can, you’re in complete control how long the whisky is aged for. We charge £100 for each additional year per cask to cover storage and insurance fees.
I'M IN, WHAT'S NEXT?
Simple, if you’d like more details then take a look at our frequently asked questions video below, or if you’re ready to pick a cask then you can send us your details to firstname.lastname@example.org, or head to our cask page to send an enquiry.
There are so many reasons to love organic farming, but giving tours to farmers who visit the distillery often throws up interesting questions or comments.‘Surely it is more prone to disease and pests’, ‘yes but the barley isn’t of very good quality’, ‘but the yield is smaller’. The one that sticks in our mind the most, and the one that may resonate with the gardeners among us, is‘it looks so untidy!’ There are two sides to every story, so below we take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of organic farming.
Firstly, let’s start by welcoming you to the wonderful world of internet whisky debates. There’s many of them, and they can get, unexpectedly, a little heated. So, we’re here to cool it down and let you know that the world of whisky doesn’t have to be as daunting as you expect – and to address the most commonly asked question in the whisky world… Can I add water to my whisky?
Buy a cask of whisky. We realise that sentence can sound a little daunting, and that you might need to know a lot about whisky to even think about delving into a whole cask. But in reality, we have a really wide range of cask owners - from whisky buffs to total newbies.