Cotswold Voice: Ambitions Scotched
PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 July 2014
Adam Edwards thought fancifully that his family might not be descended from Shropshire peasants and that he may be the fruit of the loins of a Scottish laird
I have a chum living in the Cotswolds who inherited a title after his elder brother died. It’s not much of a handle, an ancient baronetcy that allows him to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name, which he says he loves. Tradesmen, he says, are more deferential, decent tables in restaurants are more readily available and his wife delights in the title of `lady’.
I was musing on his sudden elevation to the aristocracy last summer when my younger brother returned from his French holiday with half a dozen bottles of Sir Edwards’ whisky. Was Sir Edwards, my sibling joked, a relation of ours and if so what happened to the title?
I, like most of my fellow countrymen, had long ago resigned myself to the title of Mister, or at best if I am the recipient of a particularly fancy piece of junk mail I enjoy an Esq. tagged onto my surname. I was more than happy with this state of affairs until the arrival of the bottles of Sir Edwards, which fancifully led me to think that my family might not after all be descended from Shropshire peasants and in particular that I may be the fruit of the loins of a Scottish laird. For on the label of the blended whisky was a grand looking Scottish warrior in kilt and bonnet with a castle in the mists behind him. The chatty label on the back of the bottle – signed by Sir John Edwards - claimed it was a connoisseur’s drink with a fine nose and delicate flavour. And after drinking the whisky – in truth a pretty rough and ready mixture – I subsequently made some sloe gin, filtered it into the embossed Sir Edwards bottles and with an only a small self-deprecating joke gave it away as Christmas presents.
It was shortly after the New Year that my uncle, also called John Edwards, completed his history of the Edwards family and presented me with a copy. Despite losing trace of the Edwards name in Shropshire in the early 18th century Uncle John had highlighted many Scottish relations. And although I discovered from his definitive work many treacherous Campbells and worthy Guthries in my background there was no sign of a Scottish Edwards or even a McEdwards. Indeed there is no trace of the name Edwards in Robert Bain’s authoritative book The Clans and Tartans of Scotland.
But Edinburgh had loomed large in Uncle John’s family history and Sir Edwards is matured and blended by Leith Distillers in Edinburgh and so this spring I began my hunt for the lost title. Sadly Leith’s Distillers were not much help in my search. The company had not got the faintest idea who Sir Edwards was, might have been or indeed if he ever existed and suggested I went to France. The company merely shipped blended whisky abroad by the tanker load and the particular amber nectar I was interested in was not named, it said, until it reached the continent. Bardinet bottled it in Bordeaux, said the press officer at Leith’s, and Bardinet was where I would have to go if I wanted to find out any more.
And so I rang the company in an attempt to trace the story of the 10th best-selling whisky in France. Unfortunately most of the marketing department was on holiday and those that weren’t did not speak English. My own French does not extend to inquiring about the past records, portraits and documents of a Scottish baronet. However, I was finally put through to a young receptionist Emmanuelle Baron who suggested “Sir Edwards was not Scottish but French”.
She explained in broken English that Edward was the son of the late Paul Bardinet, the French importer who started the company at the end of the 19th century, and who named his imported brand of whisky after his eldest child. Then, according to Emmanuelle, he added the baronetcy on a whim to make it sound more authentic and aristocratic.
In my blind search for a title - and the fact that Sir John Edwards had ostensibly written the signed blurb on the back label - I had not noticed that all-important apostrophe on the front of the bottle. It was the floating comma that lay between the ‘d’ and the ‘s’ of Sir Edward’s rare blend Scotch whisky that doomed my aristocratic ambitions.
My birthright was, after all, as humble as the bogus-named Scotch whisky I had been sipping. That did not stop me asking my brother to bring back a few more bottles for me from his annual French holiday. Last week I got phone call from him. He was in the Carrefour supermarket in Calais. He couldn’t find any Sir Edward’s whisky but the shelves were groaning with Sir Richard’s whisky. “Will that do?” he said, with what I took to be heavy sarcasm.
This article by Adam Edwards is from the July 2014 issue of Cotswold Life