By LISA KLEIN
There are plenty of Scotch Whisky lovers, enthusiasts and experts, but some avid drinkers of the spirit reach a higher plane of distilled prestige, being invited into an special society dedicated to Scotch.
The Keepers of the Quaich, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, was founded in 1988 by several of the leading Scotch Whisky distillers with a mission to “celebrate the values and image of Scotch Whisky as the world’s finest and most prestigious distilled spirit.”
Today, Keepers of the Quaich has 18 corporate members and inducts a group of new Keepers twice a year – those working in the industry or writing about whisky who have shown an “outstanding commitment” to Scotch Whisky.
Since its inception, the society has been represented in more than 100 countries and has inducted almost 3,000 Keepers.
A few Keepers a year receive an even higher honor, becoming Masters of the Quaich – a rare privilege in the world of whisky.
The society’s private ceremony banquets are held at Blair Castle in the Scottish Highlands, the ancestral home and fortress of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl. Keepers new and old celebrate with a medal ceremony and banquet of local dishes, washed down, of course, with the “water of life.”
The proceedings always feature the Atholl Highlanders, the Duke of Atholl’s private regiment and pipe band, and the Keepers’ enormous sterling silver quaich.
The quaich is a traditional Scottish drinking bowl, held with two hands, that was originally made of wood before graduating to silver. Two-handled versions are used for whisky, and the Keepers’ rendition is 24 inches across.
The society also has its own version of another Scotch tradition: the tartan, which is a woven wool cloth in a plaid pattern representing a specific clan.
The Keepers’ tartan is based on a 17th-century design in blue, gold and brown. The colors represent the simple ingredients used to make Scotch Whisky – water, barley and peat.
The current head of the “beating heart of the industry” is the Duke of Argyll, its grand master for a two-year term, one of the many patrons of the Keepers who include Scottish dukes, earls, and lords.
Ian Smith of British beverage company Diageo, which owns Scotch Whisky brands such as Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s and Lagavulin, is the current chairman.
The Keepers of the Quaich can also be found outside of Scotland, with international chapters in Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, the Netherlands, the Nordics, South Africa, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States.