Coleburn is another distillery built during the boom period of the 1890’s just prior to the collapse in demand domestically for whisky. Established in 1897 by a blending company from Dundee known as James Robertson & Son, it provided stock for its business, and drew water from the nearby spring and was set near Linkwood distillery. Another advantage was its close proximity to the Great Northern Railway so much so it had a good station on site to assist with the transportation of goods.
There are very few details available regarding Coleburn during its early years and in 1916 it was sold to the Clynelish Distillery Company, before being taken over by the Distillers Company Limited that would eventually become the Diageo we know today. The distillery was never a large producer only ever having 2 stills on site and undergoing a large refurbishment during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which reflected many of the modern practises of the period. The worm tubs were replaced by condensers and steam coils were used to heat the stills thereafter. The mash house was rebuilt in what were potentially the first major changes since the 1890’s and the maltings were closed in 1968. The distillery even to this day retains the classic style of appearance, being constructed from hard wearing stone and still features dunnage warehouses and the distinctive pagodas thanks to its design by Charles Doig.
When the cold winds of overproduction and a fall in demand battered the whisky industry in the early 1980’s, companies had to take a look at their existing distilleries. Future viability, efficiency and cost were major factors as was the existence of a single malt presence. For Coleburn, it had lost its advantages of the 1950’s refurbishment and remained a relatively small producer with just 2 stills. Most of this was destined for blends, although towards the end of its lifespan it was used an experimental distillery, testing various methods and changes in the distillation process. Much like Glen Keith that was owned by Chivas, it was used a testbed for ideas before these were rolled out across the company portfolio. Unfortunately, this laboratory status was not enough to save either distillery.
After being closed in 1985 and its distilling license was cancelled in 1992, the distillery stood idle until 2004 until it was purchased with the intension of being turned into an entertainment centre and concert venue, but this has never transpired and over the years there have been rumours of a hotel. This whisky hotel would offer a sizeable array of rooms and a conference complex whilst making use of its original features. However, the site is far from derelict and being nearby a busy road is accessible. Today some of the traditional dunnage warehouses are used by independent bottler Murray McDavid who source casks from across the world before finishing these in a variety of ways, or creating their own blends. The laboratory and other facilities necessary to create these whiskies are also onsite, so today Coleburn is still involved in the whisky industry to a certain extent.
Coleburn is an exceptionally rare whisky. It has only been bottled by the independents on a very rare occasions and hasn’t been seen in several years. Gordon & MacPhail or Signatory would seem the most likely candidates nowadays to bottle again and in terms of an official release, then you have to seek out a Rare Malt bottling distilled in 1979 and bottled at 21 years of age. Very little Coleburn if any is now left so this is a whisky to appreciate if you are given the opportunity.