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Two minutes with Annabel Thomas, Nc’nean

Published 31 October 2019

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For this week’s Careers Q&A, we caught up with Annabel Thomas, founder of organic whisky distillery Nc’nean. Annabel shared the details of their new Aged Botanical Spirit, how she discovered her passion for whisky and why you shouldn’t be afraid to trust your gut instinct. 

When did you realise you wanted to work in F&B? 

I realised when I went to Islay and did a few whisky distillery tours: and they all said the same thing. That was the moment I knew I wanted to do something different, to move the wonderful Scotch industry forwards by trying new things and driving the sustainability agenda.  

Where and how did you get your start?

I guess I just started – I quit my job and when I got up the next morning I had to set about figuring out how to set up a distillery from scratch.  

Sum up your current work life in one sentence. 

Totally bonkers: fun, exciting but also super long hours, no break and lots of travel.  

Who has been really influential on your career and why? 

I think it’s impossible to set up business without mentors or support of some kind. There are two people on our board who have provided a lot of support – Benet Slay who is our chairman and ex-Diageo has been completely invaluable on the sales & marketing side of the business, and my father, Derek Lewis, who is also on the board is involved across the business but is particularly so on the practical side of things at the distillery. 

What’s next for you? 

There’s a lot in the pipeline at Nc’nean! We’ve just launched our second product – an Aged Botanical Spirit – which is a trio of spirits matured in three different casks inspired by cocktails: vermouth, Mondino and bourbon. And now we’re looking ahead to 2020 when our first whisky will be released! Three years felt like a long time when we started out but it’s gone so fast and summer 2020 will be here before we know it. 

What’s your one piece of advice to someone starting out? 

Don’t be afraid to trust your gut instinct – there will be nine people who say ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘it won’t work’ – but if you’ve thought it through and believe in it, then give it a try. Otherwise the world stands still.  

Where did you last have a great meal? 

London has the most amazing restaurant scene and I feel so lucky to live here. Locally, we love A Wong, Brunswick House and Hunan but I am addicted to Hot Dinners and love going to new restaurants. My last standout dish was the pork chop at Kitty Fishers.  

Are there any openings you are looking forward to? 

I haven’t yet managed to get to Black Rock to see their new expanded space which I’m really excited about. I am also looking forward to trying Lockes.  

Where is the most exciting city for hospitality (aside from London)? 

So hard to just choose one! Glasgow is pretty vibrant at the moment, but you also can’t beat some European classics: Berlin or Madrid.  

This Q&A was first published in the CODE Careers Bulletin. To subscribe click here

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