Quaich – Scotland’s Cup of Friendship
Never heard of a Quaich before? Or it rings a bell but you’re unsure of what it is exactly, what you use it for and where it comes from? Then this article is for you!
What is a Quaich?
The word ‘Quaich’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘cuach’ meaning cup. Many websites will tell you that it is pronounced ‘quake’ but in Scotland we actually pronounce the ‘ch’ in the same manner as we would for the word ‘loch’. The Quaich is also known as the Scottish “Loving Cup” or “Cup of Friendship”.
A Quaich is a traditional Scottish shallow drinking cup with two handles on opposite sides that is typically carved out of wood, probably in imitation of a scallop shell from which drams of whisky are believed to have been drunk. There were also larger Quaichs used for ale, the largest surviving one being big enough to hold 1,5 pints.
What’s the story behind the Quaich?
The “Loving Cup” is a cherished Scottish invention that originated in the Highlands, where it’s been used for centuries. Quaich making was a highly regarded profession in Scotland in the 17th century. The earliest Quaichs were made from a single piece of wood, with the lugs (handles) sometimes covered with silver – which provided a perfect place for engraving the initials of the owner. (Carving your initials pretty much everywhere used to be very popular in Scotland.)
In the seventeenth century, metal Quaichs made of silver, brass or/and pewter also started to appear – making the cups fancy enough to be used among the fashionable upper classes of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Quaich is said to have first travelled south in the canteens of the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.
Since the wooden Quaichs are quite sturdy and thick at the bottom, the design had to change in order for the aristocracy (mainly fine Scottish ladies) to be able to lift the fine metal Quaichs and drink from them in a sophisticated manner. This resulted in a much lighter design where the sides were of the same thickness and the inner cavity much deeper and more bowl-like than before.
The above is a horn and silver mounted Quaich with three lugs made by William Dunningham in Aberdeen in 1905 and assayed in Edinburgh. The centre of the bowls are usually decorated with an engraved silver disk – here with the message SGUAB AS’I that means ‘Toss it back!’
What was the Quaich used for?
Scotland’s cup of friendship has been used throughout the centuries to offer a welcoming drink in the form of whisky or brandy at clan gatherings and family occasions as well as to greet friends and visitors.
The two handles make the Quaich an ideal cup for sharing and incorporates trust between the giver and the receiver who could be friends, family, lovers or even strangers. A Quaich should always be offered so that the receiver can hold both lugs, making it impossible for the drinker to use any weapons.
What is the Quaich used for today?
The Quaich has found its place in many ceremonial events and is still being used to offer welcoming toasts to guests in some Scottish homes. At weddings the Quaich is seen as a symbol of the shared love between the wedding couple and in christenings it is used to drink to the health of the newborn. This friendly cup is also often present at traditional events such as Burns Suppers.
A Quaich makes a meaningful gift
A “Cup of Friendship” is a common wedding, christening and anniversary gift nowadays. And what better gift is there than this beautiful symbol of love, sharing, friendship and respect?
Sláinte! (“Health” in Gaelic)