Keepers of the Quaich
This evening the 66th Keepers of the Quaich event takes place in Highland Perthshire.
'Established by the Scotch Whisky Industry to celebrate the outstanding commitment of those involved in the production, promotion and protection of the worlds finest distilled spirit' - Keepers of the Quaich
An exclusive, international society, it recognises those who’ve made an outstanding contribution to the Scotch Whisky Industry by honouring them with the esteemed title of Keeper of the Quaich. 'Quaich' is the name given to a traditional two handled drinking cup in Scotland, often filled with whisky and used in ceremonies and celebrations. A very limited number of people are inducted into the society each year following a strict selection process whereby potential candidates must be nominated and seconded by existing Keepers or Masters and they must have been involved with Scotch Whisky for at least seven years. Celebrating 15 successful years in the industry Mike, our Managing Director at Abbey Whisky was inducted as a Keeper earlier this year and we were lucky enough to attend and experience the prestigious event for ourselves. Here we take a look back at a very special evening in April this year.
Keepers of the Quaich Ceremony and Banquet - Blair Castle, April 3rd 2023
As guests of Berry Bros. and Rudd we arrived on a sunny and unseasonably warm April evening to the impressive Blair Castle, its whitewashed walls gleaming in the early evening sunshine. This most iconic of castles is the ancient seat of the Earl’s and Dukes of Atholl and home to the Keepers of the Quaich ceremony which is held here twice a year. A fire lanterned welcome awaited us with a guard of honour from the Atholl Highlanders no less as we made our way up the red carpet towards the castle entrance.
We were greeted inside the castle's magnificent entrance hall, its wood panelled walls adorned with weaponry dating back to the Battle of Culloden and the Jacobite rising. We left our hosts to join fellow nominees and guests for the induction reception upstairs in the castle's dining room where we sipped whisky cocktails, perused oil paintings of local landscapes on the walls around us and mostly people watched. The different accents that could be heard around the room hinted at a very international guest list all with one interest in common, Scotch Whisky. One couldn’t help but wonder what our international friends made of it all. Many had embraced the occasion and the opportunity to don a tartan sash, kilt or tartan trews (for the less brave).
The skirl of the pipes interrupted the excitable chatter in the room announcing the arrival of the Grand Quaich held aloft by the Master of the Quaich in a procession accompanied by the Atholl Highlanders and the ceremonial party. Six Masters and 45 Keepers were to be inducted at this ceremony. Nominees were called forward in small groups of 4 at a time along with a guest.
The Oldest Whisky in existence?
As we lined up in preparation to enter the induction ceremony room, one of the Atholl Highlanders brought to our attention a cabinet to our left, displaying a dusty and unremarkable bottle which he informed us was rumoured to be the oldest whisky in existence and discovered within the walls of the castle. He explained that it was undergoing tests and analysis awaiting confirmation.
Just this week, the story made the news headlines and the claims have been corroborated following carbon dating analysis and tasting by whisky expert Angus MacRaild. Around 40 bottles were discovered in a cellar at the castle and the whisky is believed to have been distilled in 1833 and bottled in 1841. Archive evidence held at the castle supports this timeline. Blair Castles rich links and association with Scotch Whisky, make it a very appropriate setting for the 65th Keepers of the Quaich.
We were reminded to switch our phones off and strictly no photographs were to be taken once inside the room adding to the secrecy and intrigue surrounding the ceremony. We entered the room and as instructed the nominees took their standing positions in front of the Grand Quaich as the guests took their seats. Each nominee was introduced in turn and an explanation given as to why they had been nominated for induction into the society. Each then swore an oath whilst holding the Grand Quaich. It was a very proud moment indeed for Mike and those of us present. The private closed door ceremony allowed us to experience something quite unique and special.
Once pleasantries had been exchanged and Quaich’s presented we were shown to a neighbouring room for Mike to have his official Keepers portrait taken before rejoining our hosts in the dramatic castle ballroom for the banquet. If our international guests had thought they’d experienced full highland hospitality up to this point… they’d seen nothing yet!
The low lighting in the grand ballroom perfectly complimented the room with its majestic wooden vaulted ceiling and walls dressed with stags antlers. With the formalities over, we took our seats at the table alongside our hosts and relaxed into the evening.
A six course menu celebrated the very best of Scottish fayre from Isle of Skye scallops to Atholl Estate Beef and Ballintaggart haggis. Each course was served alongside a selected dram of Scotch Whisky with which we toasted everyone and everything including the new Keepers and Masters, the Grand Quaich and not forgetting the Haggis. Robert Lovie in his role as Fear an Tighe gave a most theatrical address to the Haggis. We enjoyed traditional music from Gaelic singer Ruairidh Iain Gray and the beautiful sound of house band Spirit of the Quaich throughout the evening before an after dinner speech from Honorary Keeper Gabby Logan MBE.
Ahead of the event, seasoned Keepers had hinted that the evening culminates with guests on tables. As the evening drew to a close Lord Bruce took to the stage and serenaded us with a rendition of Scotland Yet. It turned out that this was to involve far more physical audience participation than we'd anticipated when deciding upon our choice of evening wear for the occasion. Glancing around the room nervously hoping it was a joke, we spied two paramedics with bags at the ready lurking in the shadows just outside the door to the hall. Before we had time to make our excuses we were three verses in, stood on our chairs with one foot on the table raising yet another toast!
The sound of the pipes and drums of the Atholl Highlanders soon filled the corridors outside the hall, intensifying as they marched through the tables and gathered in formation on the stage in front of us. Signalling the end of the evening, all guests were upstanding for a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
Keepers of the Quaich was truly a spectacular celebration of Scotlands whisky, food, music and culture and we felt extremely privileged to have experienced a very special evening in the company of the great and good of the Scotch Whisky industry.
Thanks again to our hosts Berry Bros. and Rudd for taking such good care of us, Director Annabel Meikle and her team and The Keepers of the Quaich Committee.