Comber Distillery

Whiskey distillery founded in 1825.

Historically, there were two distilleries located in Comber town. Established in 1825, the Upper Distillery started life as a brewery and malt house before John Miller invested the £8000 required to alter its output from beer to whiskey.

Also in 1825, Byrne and Giffikin turned a papermill into the Lower Distillery, but only 20 years later John Miller bought over the smaller factory and ran the two plants simultaneously. The Comber Distilleries Company may have been among the first Irish distillers to pioneer bottled whiskey, but the relatively heavy, pure pot they still produced began to lose trade to lighter, blended whiskeys. The decline in Comber Distilleries was also hastened by increased competition and the outbreak of the second world war.

First bought over by HD Wines of Inverness in 1953, a roaring trade was made out of scrap and some of the remaining whiskey stocks. February 1953 brought the end of pot still whiskey making in Comber and Northern Ireland as a whole. Then, in 1957, two gentlemen called Hollywood and Donnelly bought what remained and sold off even more whiskey. Finally, the distilleries were taken over by locally based wine merchants and distillers’ agents, James E McCabe. They set about buying as much old stock of Comber as they could find in Ireland’s bonded warehouses, but it never amounted to very much. In the early 1980s, McCabe launched a brand called Old Comber, aged at least 30 years. Since then only a few hundred bottles have been sold each year, mainly in Northern Ireland.

© Darren Taylor,