The Upper

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

The Upper Distillery, Comber, co. Down.

Belfast has been called the “Athens of Ireland,” the “Manchester of Ulster,” the Glasgow of Antrim.” On every side are evidences of prosperity and indefatigable industry - there is no town in Ireland where the population has so rapidly increased. It is the emporium of art, trade, manufactures, and commerce, the seat of science, and the patron of letters. We spent several hours in visiting some of the principal public buildings before starting on our short railway journey to Comber, and regretted that we had not more time at our disposal.

We left the Royal Avenue Hotel in a very tipsy-looking jaunting car, with a driver to match the vehicle. His coat had evidently been handed down from a past generation, its skirt touching his heels, whilst his battered white hat and his knee-breeches were of like ancient date. He assured us on his honour that he would catch the Comber train; he kept his word, but it was at the peril of our lives. He bowled us along almost upsetting us at every corner, we collided with other vehicles, almost ran over one old woman and three street urchins, and we inwardly vowed we would never again let a jarvey know that we were in a hurry. Our short railway journey of eight miles to Comber, took us through thriving suburbs, past pretty country villas, and a fine agricultural district. The town, which derives its name from an Irish word signifying the meeting of water, consists of three streets and a large square, and is on the main road from Belfast to Downpatrick. The celebrated Royal Bog, from which great quantities of peats are sent to Belfast and other places is in this neighbourhood.

The Parish Church occupies the site of an old Abbey, founded in the year 1201, by Brien Catha Dun, to the honour of the “Blessed Virgin.” It was inhabited by some Cistercian monks from Wales; the last Abbot was John O’Mulligan, who voluntarily resigned the Abbey in 1543, and, sad to relate, soon after, James I. gave this splendid pile of buildings to Sir James Hamilton, who committed the vandalism of pulling it down and using the materials in erecting a mansion called “Mount Alexander,” which is now a heap of ruins. Comber derives its name from the river, on which it is situated, which flows into Strangford Lough.

The Distillery, which was originally a brewery, is about half a mile from the station. It was converted into a Distillery in the year 1825 by the late Mr. John Miller, J.P., who, in the year 1871, disposed of it to Mr. Samuel Bruce, the senior partner in the present firm, who retained the staff, and continued to make the Whisky on the old lines and of the same quality. The water used in this Distillery comes from Ballymaliddy Lough, about 2½ miles distant.

The arrangements of the establishment, so far as the Mash Tun, Fermenting Backs, &c., are very similar to those described in previous Chapters. There are two old Pot Stills, and the annual output is nearly 150,000 gallons. There are capital Granaries, capable of containing a thousand tons of barley, an extensive range of Malt Barns, and bonded Warehouse, capable of containing 4,000 casks.