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Issue 13 - Dinner with the keeper

Whisky Magazine Issue 13
December 2000


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Dinner with the keeper

The keepers of the Quaich are a clan shrouded with mystery. Tom Bruce Gardyne reveals what it's like to experience one of their twice yearly gatherings.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o' the Puddin-race ..." declares the booming voice of a small, kilted man, caught in the spotlight. And with these opening lines from Robert Burns' immortal Address to a Haggis, the banquet is well and truly underway. Our speaker is the world famous (well, in Scotland anyway) presenter of the TV series Beachgrove Gardens, Jim McColl. Tonight, however, he is putting on a star performance worthy of Broadway as the evening's Fear an Tigh, or Master of Ceremonies. His performance involves bending down to address the haggis, nose to sheep's meat, one moment and then leaping backwards, prodding it from afar the next. With the poem complete and the dish carved we all stand to raise a toast.

The gathering at Blair Castle in Perthshire took place in autumn as part of the twice yearly get together of the Keepers of the Quaich, the society dedicated to the Scotch whisky industry. Watching McColl dance about with his skean-dhu, or dagger, flashing in the lights reminded me of a tale from a previous banquet. The story goes that the Fear an Tigh that evening was having quite a tussle with a particularly slippery haggis which jumped the knife and had to be snatched from the floor. "What's he doing?" whispered Nancy Reagan, wife of the guest of honour – the former President of the United States Ronald Reagan, to her neighbour on the top-table. "Addressing the haggis," replied Lord Elgin, the Society Patron and past Grand Master. "What for...

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