Nc’nean Distillery: Woodchip boiler installation

Ncnean Stillhouse

re:heat have been involved in helping realise the construction of the newest and only organic distillery in Scotland at the Drimnin Estate on the remote Morvern Peninsula.  Ncn’ean – pronounced nuk-knee-ann – is the latest whisky distillery to enter production in Scotland, and takes a unique approach to using the natural resources of the local area to create this most iconic of spirits.

Our involvement with the Nc’nean Distillery began back in March 2015, when we were asked by the founder, Annabel Thomas, to review the procurement documents for a woodchip boiler that would provide steam ot the distillery.  Over a period of time, the advice we were called on to provide broadened out into other areas, including how best to season and prepare their timber for chipping, the chip production process and the practicalities of connecting the boiler system to a wider district heating network.

Eventually, we were asked by Annabel to put a proposal forward for the supply and installation of the steam boiler, alongside three other contractors who had already been asked to price for the project.  Following a detailed pricing exercise, a whirlwind tour of some operating steam boilers in Austria, and a thousand and one questions, we were appointed as the specialist biomass contractor to the Nc’nean project, securing the £400,000+ contract against stiff competition.

Aerial view of Ncnean distillery

Planning began in earnest, with the biggest challenges being the remote location of the Drimnin Estate – 40 miles to the west of the Corran ferry on the A82 in Lochaber (including 22 miles of single track road!), the lack of 3 phase electricity on site, and the overall complexity of delivering a biomass steam boiler project.  The logistics were a particular challenge, and the motorway-munching trucks that would bring the boiler from Austria to Scotland would never manage the narrow single track lanes of the Morvern peninsula.  Thankfully, we were able to call on the services of specialist highland haulage contractor, Ferguson Transport, who gave the latest addition to their fleet – a heavy-lift HIAB – its first real test, reaching 96% of its lifting capacity with the first boiler component.

Biomass steam boiler offloadFergusons did a sterling job of getting the c. 30 tonnes of boiler plant the 40 miles to site, including past the final section, signed “Unsuitable for Caravans”!

Not only were we assembling an 850kW biomass boiler, but countless other contractors were on site building the rest of the distillery, which had started 2016 as a collection of run-down farm buildings and barns.  The site was live throughout Q3 and Q4 2016, with finishing-off and commissioning taking place in Q1 2017.Biomass Steam Boiler

Ncn’ean Distillery is now working 5 days a week, turning out 91,000 litres a year of organic spirit that will be laid down until at least 2020, at which point it officially becomes whisky.  It’s not common that we have to wait 3 years to see if a project has really been a success, but in this instance, we’re prepared to make an exception!

Spirit safe ncn'ean