Coleraine

The below is taken from The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard first published in 1887.

Coleraine Distillery, Coleraine, co. Londonderry.

From Belfast we again started on our “spiritual wanderings,” and travelled by railway through towns and villages given up to the growth of flax and the manufacture of linens, until we came to the town of our quest, to pay a visit to the first “all malt” Distillery we have seen in Ireland. There are only two such, therefore we must particularize them a little more fully than others.

Coleraine is the second most important town in the country, and is a sea-port. It is planted on the River Bann three miles from its influx to the sea. The river is navigable up to Coleraine for vessels of considerable tonnage, and a regular cross-channel steamboat trade to Glasgow, Liverpool, &c., is now established. Very extensive navigation works have lately been completed at the entrance to the river, where a sand-bar previously existed. These works, consisting chiefly of two extensive and almost parallel moles carried out into deep sea water, were designed by Sir John Coode, and have been worked out under his superintendence, the result being highly satisfactory - in fact, a complete success. The whole outlay will be, 90,000, of which about,35,000 has been given by the hon. the Irish Society.

The history of this old town dates back to the year 540, and is very interesting. It was the royal seat of the Kings of Dalnaruidhe, and, at the date mentioned, it possessed a Priory of Canons Regular, of which St. Carbreus, a disciple of St. Finian and first Bishop of Coleraine, was the first Abbot. The establishment was continued until the year 930, when it was plundered and destroyed.

The Irish Society also settled some of their members here. Twenty years since were to be seen in the Diamond and Church Streets, some ancient houses of timber-cage work, said to have been framed in London and sent over for the settler’s use. Ales! they have disappeared, and more modern dwellings have taken their places.

The neighbourhood abounds in charming scenery, and the air is extremely salubrious. The town is celebrated for manufacturing a fine linen called “Coleraine,” and Malt Whisky. The greatest attraction, however, is its incomparable salmon river, called the “Bann,” or “White River,” a short distance from the Distillery. Upwards of eighty tons of this fish are annually taken at the Cutts, where the river makes a rapid fall of 12 feet over a ledge of rocks, which the salmon cannot ascend. There is a wooden bridge, on which one can stand and see them working their way up the foaming torrent. The River which runs swiftly through the town, is always a scene of beauty, with its verdant slopes and plantations stretching down to the water’s edge. As we stood on the bridge the rays of the setting sun were just falling on the distant hills and penetrating the thick branches of the trees.

At the time of our visit, the Distillery had just commenced active work, and the farmers were busy delivering barley which had previously been purchased at the public corm market, which adjoins the Distillery. The street was literally blocked with carts, and presented a very animated sight. The Distillery proper was an old manorial mill at the end of the seventeenth century, and was converted into a Distillery in the year 1820. It is entered from New Market Street by means of a handsome gateway, and is entirely enclosed. The Barley Stores consist of a fine lofty building, over 60 feet high, fronting the main street. The barley is raised by steam-hoists to the different floors. Besides these there is another, a fine building, having 150 feet of frontage, which contains five Barley Lofts, each 150 feet long. From there the Barley falls through a shoot into a large timber Steep, made of pitch pine, which takes up the entire end of the building. Here the first process commences - viz., that of steeping the barley for about forty hours. It is afterwards strewn on a carefully-swept concrete floor. There are two of these Malting Floors at this establishment, well ventilated and lighted. The barley is turned two or three times daily, so that each particle may come under the necessary atmospheric influence. After several days, when the acrospire has properly developed, it is taken from the floors and placed in the two large Kilns, both of which have an open roof, of the modern kind, each possessing two doors at different altitudes, connecting them direct with the Malting Floors. When the malt is dried it is sent to the Malt-mill in which it is crushed between a fine pair of metal rollers driven by steam-power; thence it is conveyed to the Malt Deposit Floor, and weighed into sacks of 168 lbs. From here it is removed by a communicating gangway into the Grist Loft over the Mashing House. The two heating coppers in this establishment are heated by steam, and each contains 3,000 gallons; and now commences the first process of distillation. The grist is conveyed by means of a funnel to the Mashing Machine, which consists of a square wooden spout or shoot, connected with a copper pipe possessing a stopcock, through which flows the hot water from the coppers already referred to. As the grist falls down, it comes in contact with the water at the junction of the spout, and is well mixed by a little machine before it falls into the Mash Tun, which is a clean vessel, holding 7,000 gallons. Here it is subject to the process called mashing. This consists in the crushed malt being beaten about by a double-acting revolving stirring rake driven by steam. The object of this is to extract the saccharine matter from the malt, and great care is required during the process. When the mashing is finished the Worts are drained from the Tun into the Underback, a vessel containing 2,000 gallons. From here they are pumped up by a three-throw pump - there are three on the premises - into the coolers on the top story, which cover the whole of the roof of the Still House andTun Room. The coolers are on the old-fashioned fan principle, and here the worts are reduced to the required temperature. They then descend into the Washbacks, of which there are six, each holding 5,000 gallons; and now commences the duties of the Excise officials. Fermentation having subsided, the liquid changes its name and becomes wash, and is ready for the various refining processes of distillation. The wash runs from the Washbacks into a vessel called a Wash Charger, holding 5,000 gallons, an intermediate receptacle, before the wash runs into the Wash Still. The first operation in he Still House now commences. A part of the wash goes by gravitation into the Wash Still, holding 2,700 gallons, where the process of distillation begins, and is carried on in different forms until the pure spirit is obtained. On leaving this Still it is called Low-wines, and after passing through the Worm Tub, a circular vessel containing 7,000 gallons of water, and placed out in the open, it descends into the Low-wines Receiver, a wooden vessel holding 1,500 gallons. From here again, by gravitation, it goes into the Low-wines Still, holding 1,500 gallons; from thence again through the Worm Tub into the two Feints Receivers, of same capacity as the former one. The Feints, as they are now called, run into the two spirit Stills, each holding 550 gallons. Again it goes through the Worm Tubs, and descends into the Spirits Receiver, a circular wooden vessel holding 3,000 gallons. It is now perfected Spirit, having undergone three distillations.

Here we must pause to say that, in all our wanderings through Erin’s Green Isle, for cleanliness, order, and regularity, we have seen no Distillery to beat this. The Stillmen seem to take a delight and pride in their work, and regard all these old Pot Stills with veneration. They are kept as shining as gold, and every bit of brass work, even the frames of the Safe and Sampling Safe, were polished and bright enough for a jeweller’s show case.

From the Receiver the Spirit is pumped into a vat holding 3,000 gallons, which is placed in the Spirit Store, where it is reduced to 11 o.p. The Whisky is then racked into casks, weighed, and deposited in the Bonded Warehouses, of which there are nine at present, containing 5,000 casks, until required for consumption. The Engine-room contains a 30-horse power engine, also a fine machine which lifts about 300 tons of water from the well every twenty-four hours; and there are also four huge double-acting pumps. The Iron Water-tank is fixed on the roof of the Export Bottling Warehouse. In the yard are to be found an extensive Cooperage and Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Shop. In both of these a numbers of hands are constantly employed in making cases and repairing and constructing casks. In a line with the office are extensive coal sheds, which, we were informed by our conductor, contained over 2,000 tons of coal.

The offices are at the side of the gateway and consists of two stories, the ground floor being occupied by the clerks, and the floor above by the principal and manager. Opposite the Coal Stores there is a bottling store for the export and home trade, also a similar building opposite the distillery for duty-paid Whisky. We were informed that no Whisky is bottled under ten years of age. We noticed that all the bottles and cases bore the trade mark of “H.C.,” and on asking for an explanation we were informed that since the year 1845 this Whisky has been supplied to the House of Commons, and therefore the proprietor had adopted “H.C.” as a trade mark. The water used in the Distillery comes from a noted well on the premises, 8 feet broad and 25 feet deep, containing several springs, and said to have been blessed by St. Finian. It supplies water for every purpose, and is of the finest quality. The whisky made at this establishment is pure Malt.

Besides the Bonded Warehouse referred to in the Distillery account, there are others in Brook Street, a square pile of stone buildings, by the side of a small stream, which contained a large quantity of Whisky.

The annual output of this famous Malt Distillery is 100,000 gallons. James Feehan, a local poet, thus wrote of the Coleraine Whisky: -

“The Spaniard may boast of his shadow,The Frenchman his sparkling champagne,But if a man wants ot be merryI’d advise him to thry Ould Coleraine.“If you search in the annals of hist’ryTill the time of the Roman and Dane,You’ll find it was reckon’d a mist’ryHow they made such good stuff in Coleraine.“You’ve all heard of Barney McCleary,And the buttermilk waterin’ the plain,And the pitcher, the pride of the dairy,That Kitty got smash’d near Coleraine.“But I’ll tell you a saycret this minit,I know you won’t tell it again,Of milk sorra taste there was in it,She was smugglin’ a drop of Coleraine.Chorus - “Then hurrah for the trim little boro’,And the Bann as it runs thro’ the plain;Its waters they banish all sorrow,When mixed with a drop of Coleraine.”