What is a Quaich?
The quaich is a traditional Scottish drinking vessel which was used to offer a guest a cup of welcome and also a farewell drink, usually a dram of whisky. The quaich has a rich heritage in Scotland. Indeed, they are a uniquely Scottish invention, having no apparent connection to any other European drinking vessel.
The word quaich comes from the Gaelic word ‘coach’, meaning cup and is pronounced ‘quake’. To be really accurate the ‘ch’ sound at the end of the word is sounded as in the word ‘loch’, which can be tricky for non Scots.
Quaichs are generally shallow, circular in shape and traditionally made from wood, with a pair of small lug handles projecting horizontally from opposite sides of the rim. The lugs, though functional, are of a unique curved style adding to the character of the quaich.
The making of these cups was an intricate art y which the quiach was either turned from a solid block or built up with tiny staves. The best quaichs, considered to be masterpieces, were built up with light and dark wood staves and bound round with withies or metal bands. The dozen or so staves of alternating woods such as plane-tree or laburnum were coopered together and also ‘feathered’ into each other; This was a technique in which small slivers of wood were split away from the sides of the staves and slotted into equivalent parings cut in the opposite direction.
As use of metals became more common int he late 17th century, so the quaich came to be made form brass, pewter, silver and sometimes a combination of these materials. When making a metal quaich the original design was kept but, where the originals wooden versions had solid, thick bases, metal quaichs were designed with a deeper and more bowl like inner cavity; reducing the overall weight while still retaining the outer shape. Thus the ladies of the era were saved the struggle of drinking elegantly from something that weighed the same as a large rock.
Quaich making became a highly regarded profession in 17th century Scotland. It’s likely quaichmakers made a large variety of different items, but took the name of their profession from their most accomplished and adored work.
Having originated in the Highlands, the quaich didn’t become popular throughout Scotland until around the 1740’s, when quaichs were carried from the north of Scotland with the canteens of the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie. As a result the quaich was introduced to the Lowlands, making it as far south as Edinburgh. There are even accounts of quaichs being used as far south as Derby. The quaichs used by the Princes army are said to have glass bottoms, allowing those sipping a dram to keep an eye on what was going on around them; surely a sign of treacherous times.
Today quaichs have become a common site during Scottish wedding ceremonies. The newly married couple will each take a hold of one of the handles as they share a drink to symbolise their love, togetherness and trust. They may also pass the quaich around the guests to reinforce the trust and happiness of the couple, the families and all invited.
Many people today still offer welcome toasts to their guests using the quaich, but most give them as a gift to those they hold dear, or to celebrate a joyous occasion, such as a birth or marriage. These beautiful Scottish drinking cups are displayed in homes the world over and are, overwhelmingly, seen as a symbol of love, friendship, admiration and respect.
Take a look at our full range of quaichs HERE or take a peek at some of our favorites below….