Whisky Traditions: The Quaich
Whisky is more than just a delicious drink in Scotland: historically, the golden dram has played a pivotal role in hospitality for many centuries. From how we nose and drink a dram, to ceremonial offerings, whisky traditions are a specialist area that really deserves a book on its own!
Looking to the present, one of the most popular whisky traditions prominent today in Scottish culture is “drinking from the Quaich” - a ceremony most commonly seen at weddings.
What is a Quaich?
A Quaich is a shallow cup or bowl with two or more handles, that originated in the Scottish Highlands many centuries ago. The name “Quaich” originates from the Scottish Gaelic word “cuach” which translates into "cup." Due to its historical use as an instrument in hospitality ceremonies, such as welcoming or saying goodbye to friends, it is also sometimes referred to as the “cup of friendship” or “loving cup.”
Traditionally, a Quaich would be carved out of wood. Around the seventeenth century, variations of a cup made from metal also began to appear, most typically made from pewter, silver or brass. A Quaich is usually a very ornate piece and will feature a great deal of illustration, often in a style synonymous with Celtic design, including the engraved initials of the owner.
The History of the Quaich
Drinking from a Quaich is a symbol of trust, friendship and love. It is most commonly used nowadays during marriage ceremonies by both the bride and groom who will both take a drink of whisky from the cup, acting as a metaphor for the life that the couple plan to share together. It may also be used to “wet the baby’s head” to toast the health of a newborn.
For this reason, a Quaich is considered a popular wedding gift! It is speculated that it was King James VI of Scotland who sparked the trend of gifting a Quaich, after presenting one to Anne of Denmark in honour of their marriage.
The trust element of the cup exists in the relationship between the giver and receiver. The cup is typically offered so that the receiver grasps both handles, the idea being that doing so would make it impossible for the receiver to use any weapons.
However, the cup is not just limited to weddings or births. As recently as the Commonwealth Games in 2014, specially-designed commemorative Quaichs were presented to the bronze, silver and gold medal winners, as a nation-appropriate alternative to flowers! Prior to the 2014 games, a silver Quaich was made to celebrate the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2000 and is now subsequently passed over to each nation that hosts.
The Evolution of the Quaich
There are few traditions that can survive the test of time like the Quaich has. Of course, the ceremonial cup has been adapted over time - aristocracy has had its part to play in refining the wooden cup’s base and weight in order to ensure that it is not so cumbersome to pick up with relative elegance.
There is also the shift from a defence mechanism, where some bowls would feature glass bottoms so as to keep an eye on their companions. In contrast, as Scottish society developed, so did the Quaich and the cup would be made with more romantic intentions in mind: such as crafting a cup to feature layers of glass at the bottom - to hold a lock of hair of a loved one.
The Quaich is a beautifully symbolic whisky tradition and can add a lovely touch to a special day or ceremony - especially for those who are huge fans of whisky!