Words by Simon Difford
The Keepers of the Quaich is one of those societies that you can't join unless invited and, with its ceremonies and traditions, has the air of a secret brotherhood about it. Being made a keeper is a great honour bestowed upon those who have made an outstanding contribution to the Scotch whisky industry for at least five years.
Outstanding Keepers of ten years or more may progress to become 'Masters of the Quaich'.
There are over 2,000 Keepers of the Quaich and over 150 Masters of the Quaich worldwide, spanning 86 countries. Keepers tend to be drawn from within the industry itself, be they distillers, blenders or those who market Scotch. Consequently it is even more of an honour for the likes of a hack like me - thanks.
Pronounced 'quake' as in earthquake but with a soft 'ch' (rather than 'quiche' as it is frequently mistakenly pronoused), a 'quaich' is a traditional Scottish two-handed drinking bowl. The Scottish Highlands traditionally had no pottery to speak of and these vessels were originally made of wood until the 17th century when they started to be manufactured in silver. A sterling silver Grand Quaich measuring 62cm/24 inches across, atop a base of burr elm wood, is the centrepiece of all s Keepers of the Quaich and every Keeper is presented with an engraved quaich at their enrollment.
Twice a year the society meets at Blair Castle in the Scottish Highlands, the ancient and historic home of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl, and it is during this event that new keepers are inducted. The Duke commands the only legal private army in Europe, the Atholl Highlanders, and a line of his kilted solders greet Keeper to the sound of bagpipes when they arrive at the imposing castle.