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Issue 5 - The refashioning of history

Whisky Magazine Issue 5
August 1999

 

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The refashioning of history

Charles Maclean examines the curious story of Clan Campbell and its acquired pedigree

It appears that S. Campbell & Sons, the predecessors of Campbell Distillers, the owners of Clan Campbell, were not actually Campbells at all. Samuel Campbell's original name was Samuel Rosenbloom, and before he became a Campbell he had changed his name to Ross. When asked why he did this, he replied, somewhat obscurely: ‘It's so next time I go into the witness-box and they ask me my name, I say Samuel Campbell, and when they say “Mr Campbell what was your name before it was Campbell?” I say “Ross”.' And this is by no means the only time in the history of Scotch that the past has been deftly reinvented.

S. Campbell & Sons had bought the brand in the 1930s from Muir Mackenzie & Co Ltd. of Glasgow; it had been available only in the United States, and the brand had been registered in the 1940s. The only link, in fact, that the brand of Clan Campbell has with the eponymous clan is that the Duke of Argyll is on the board of House of Campbell, Campbell Distillers' holding company. And that didn't happen until soon after the French drinks giant Pernod Ricard bought S. Campbell in 1974. Appointing the duke to the board was in line with the new owner's plan to stress the ‘heritage' of their blend – it is promoted as ‘The Noble Scotch' with ‘roots in the heart of Scotland', enjoying a ‘unique alliance with the clan that bears its name'.

So what is the eponymous Clan Campbell? Clann is a Gaelic word that simply means ‘children' or ‘descendants'. ‘Campbell' is...

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