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Issue 74 - Irish history

Whisky Magazine Issue 74
September 2008


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Irish history

Gavin D Smith uncovers the story of Comber Distilleries

Having taken a look at the story of Belfast's Royal Irish Distilleries in the last issue,we stay in Northern Ireland to examine the heritage of whiskey-making at Comber, in County Down.

Comber is located some eight miles south-east of Belfast (pictured above), and distilling started on two separate sites in the town during 1825. Distillery construction and expansion had been stimulated by the Excise Act of 1823 in Ireland just as it had in Scotland, and ‘Lower' Comber was converted from a paper mill by messrs Byrne and Giffikin, trading as Byrne & Company, while ‘Upper' Comber was a former brewery, developed for distilling by John Millar and George Johnston.

Lower Comber enjoyed a lesser reputation than its neighbour in Killinchy Street, but despite that, Millar acquired the plant around 1860, unifying the two distilleries into one commercial operation.

Following Millar's death in 1871, the Comber distilleries were subsequently purchased by Gloucestershire-based businessman Samuel Bruce. His minority partner and resident distiller was a man by the name of J McBlizzard, sometimes rather splendidly given as J Blizard McChance!

The Comber enterprise was not large by the scale of some of its Irish rivals, and output was recorded as 150,000 gallons of potstill spirit per distillery in the mid- 1880s. Comber tended to mature that spirit for considerably longer than many competitors, giving welcome justification for the brand name ‘Old Comber.' Some whiskey was matured for...

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