Comber was an Irish distillery located some eight miles south-east of Belfast. Originally two seperate distilleries distillation occured across two sites called Upper and Lower Comber. Lower Comber was an old converted paper mill run by messrs Byrne and Griffithin as Byrne & Company whereas Upper Comber was a former brewery converted for distilling by John Millar and George Johnston. Millar ultimately acquired Lower Comber in 1860 unifying the two distilleries into a single operation.
The distilleries were not large by the standard of their time, during the 1880s the two distillery were outputing at only 300,000 gallons of spirit (150,000 gallons apiece) despite this there was warehousing capacity for some 50,000 casks. This is perhaps indicative that Comber tended to mature their whiskey for considerably longer than their competitors. In some instances Comber matured whisky for as much as 20 years, more than justifying the brand name ‘Old Comber’, a name by which the distillery is still sometimes known.
In February 1953 Comber distillery closed, although put up for sale the only taker was H&D Wines in Inverness whose sole interest was in acquiring the stock and in selling the plant for scrap. Happily the stills now live on in the Cooley distillery which became Ireland’s first new distillery in 100 years.
The Lower distillery buildings were subjected to a total renovation, in which only the outer walls remained and the interior was converted in apartments and commercial properties. Some of the Upper distillery survives and has been put to a number of small-scale commercial uses.
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Old Comber Timeline:
1825: messrs Byrne and Giffikin convert and old paper mill into Lower Comber distillery, Millar and Johnston convert a former brewery into Upper Comber distillery
1860: Operated by Lower Distillery as a company under the name Comber Distilleries
1939: Decommissioned during WWII
1953: Comber distillery closed
1970: Last remaining casks of Comber were bought by the Portadown wine and spirit wholesaler James E McCabe
1980: some reserves were discovered and bottled in the as "Old Comber"
1993: James E McCab released 5,000 bottles