These days, the name Cockburn is more commonly associated with port rather than Scotch whisky. Probably even more so at this time of year as we approach the festive season. However, Cockburn & Company, founded by brothers Robert and John in 1796, was once one of the great blenders and brokers here in Leith.
Robert left the business in 1815 to return to Portugal (he had been a soldier there during the Napoleonic wars) to set up the Cockburn’s port company in the Upper Douro valley. Robert’s success is indicative of how, over time, Cockburn’s as a name in port came to overshadow that of the company’s beginnings in Scotch whisky.
There was also another brother: Henry. Or Lord Cockburn; the title he used after taking his seat as a judge at the Court of Session. Cockburn Street in Edinburgh, the winding wee road linking Waverley station to the Royal Mile, is named after him. By all accounts he was too busy instigating the Scottish Reform Act to be involved in the running of either the whisky or port businesses.
In 1892, Cockburn & Co’s wine and spirit stores were located on Constitution Street (with those pesky Pattisons as neighbours). These stores running alongside Links Lane (marked as Lovers Lane on the map) are sadly no longer there.
Fast forward nearly a hundred years and, in 1981, Cockburn’s became part of the Drambuie Liqueur Company. Ten years later, the Drambuie Group took over Caithness Glass Holdings as part of a plan to further expand the business. However, the various businesses didn’t exactly mesh together as well as had been hoped for and the company decided to put Cockburn’s up for sale.
In 1993, it was bought out of Drambuie ownership by the Wine Company Scotland but then went into adminstration in 2010. On this occasion, Cockburn’s was acquired by Edinburgh Wine Importers; owned by the Murray Capital Group which still exists today. At this time, the emphasis was well and truly on Cockburn’s as a wine merchant and the Scotch whisky side of the business made virtually no headlines at all.
This recently purchased whisky, however, dates from before either of those changes. Bottled in the late 1960s/early 1970s, at this time Cockburn & Co (Leith) Ltd was owned by the Canadian firm of Seagrams which had acquired the business in the mid 1950s.
With such an extensive portfolio of stock, it’s impossible for me to know what the components of this blend are. However, this is only the second bottle of Cockburn’s O.V 8 Years Old to feature in the Leith Whisky Trail tasting lineup and they have both been absolutely superb whiskies.
It’s always such a joy to try these old blends and gain an insight into Scotch whisky of yesteryear. Whilst prices on the secondary market are at crazy levels, these bottles aren’t the big names that folk are chasing and so can often be overlooked. As a result, they offer a more financially accessible path to tasting some liquid history.
If you'd like to discover more about the Leith Whisky Trail, you can do so here: https://www.kaskwhisky.com/leith-whisky-trail
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