Just one look at the remote setting of the Nc’nean distillery on the Morvern peninsula is proof enough that its founder Annabel Thomas has never been one to shy away from a challenge. 

After leaving behind life as a strategy consultant in London ten years ago, her team fought to raise funds, transport specialist equipment down winding country roads and develop a pioneering whisky that would first be released in 2020. 

Ms Thomas said: "I came into it all very new and it struck me that there was a big focus on doing things the way they've always been done.

"Of course, all of that tradition and heritage surrounding Scotch is really important.

"But it felt like there was room, and maybe a need, for new distilleries to come in and operate in a more future-focused way."

The Herald: Nc'nean DistilleryNc'nean Distillery (Image: Supplied)

These days Nc’nean’s organic single malts are making quite the name for themselves, with the latest ‘Quiet Rebels’ limited release inspired by the maverick spirit of its core team members launched this week. 

Their success is a welcome indication of a greener, and more inclusive era for the sector. 

But despite best efforts, outdated stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding whisky continue to linger. 

Ms Thomas said: “I still get asked if I actually like whisky all the time. 

“I wonder why people think I would have worked for ten years to open a distillery if I didn't.

“I would never be asked that if I was a man. 

“It’s just so ridiculous.” 

The Herald:

It’s a question which is likely to hit home with any woman who works with, or is simply a drinker of, whisky. 

So much so that it was used as the title of a recent survey shining a light on sexism within the modern-day industry. 

Research carried out by the OurWhisky Foundation revealed “widespread examples of unconscious bias” and “micro-aggressions” against women which could build up over time to have a “devastating” impact. 

Sobering statistics showed that 70% of women working in the industry had experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks while doing their job while almost nine out of 10 (87%) believe they face more challenges in the workplace than their male counterparts. 

The Herald:

Speaking of the survey, Ms Thomas said: “On a statistical format, I’m sorry to say that none of the data was a surprise to me and I don't think this is a problem that is exclusive to our industry.

"However, my own personal experience has been very positive. 

“In general, it’s been an incredibly friendly place to work which came as an enormous surprise to me. 

“It has a real community feel because so many people in Scotland have worked across different distilleries over the years. 

“Although there are still some elements of it that I find to be really problematic.” 

The Herald:

Asked to expand on this she continued, “In my experience, I’ve found that women don’t often see whisky as a career. 

“Universities like Herriot Watt in Edinburgh are producing brewing and distilling graduates, but the routes they follow tend to be very typically gendered. 

“For example, I’d say most men will pursue whisky while women will get into gin. 

“The fact that Nc’nean is recognised for having a different approach to diversity stems partly from the fact that I’m a woman. 

“I don’t actively set out to recruit men or women, but we do have a very gender-balanced team. 

“I think that’s very important.” 

In a clear effort to put these values into practice, the Nc’nean Distillery has just completed its second annual Women’s Whisky Week programme designed to encourage ‘education, empowerment and experimentation’.  

From September 25 to 29, three women were invited to experience all aspects of a working distillery from fermentation to blending with full accommodation provided on site. 

The Herald:

The initiative will no doubt have inspired its participants to further pursue a career in whisky, but Ms Thomas warns that work needs to be done at all levels to ensure a fully inclusive future. 

“The marketing side of the industry is a place where very immediate action could be taken to debunk stereotypes," she said.

“When you look at the social media pages of some of the country’s biggest distilleries, you’ll find that their content is very male-heavy. 

“I don’t know how we’ve gotten to the stage where this is the perception of whisky drinkers. 

“I think a lot of it came from the 80s where there was this image of men sitting in wingback armchairs telling you that you could only drink spirits neat. 

“That notion is so powerful that it's going to take a lot of consistent effort from the whole industry to unpick. 

“But we’ll continue to chip away at it, bit by bit.” 

Nc'nean is a young, independent, organic whisky distillery on the west coast of Scotland creating experimental spirits and pioneering sustainable production 

For more information, visit their website here