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Issue 88 - You don't flask, you don't get

Whisky Magazine Issue 88
June 2010


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You don't flask, you don't get

You'll find the hip flask in every distillery across the world. How did such a simple and practical item become the midfield general of the gift shop. Joel Harrison reports.

As distilleries strive to assert their individuality, you can find yourself browsing at branded items as diverse as a spare wheel cover for a 4x4 car through to lycra cycling tops. However, round and thin or square and fat, engraved with a distillery logo or leather bound in club colours, the mainstay of any whisky brands merchandise is the hip flask. How did this come about?

It all started back in the medieval era when travelers would carry water bottles made from leather, which were designed to be slung from the saddle of their horse. Flat on one side and bulbous on the other, this cleverly maximized carrying capacity without causing undue irritation to their trusty steed.

As religion spread across the globe, travelling on pilgrimages became increasingly prevalent with pilgrims striving to return home with expensive trinkets serving to document their arduous journey (This sounds a lot like the Islay Festival to me!). These ornate, bejeweled vessels became known as Pilgrim Bottles, a fine example of which can be seen in the British Museum in London.

Around this time glass became the popular choice of material. Having a seethrough vessel not only allowed the owner to keep an eye on how much liquid they were carrying, but it also opened the use of the bottles as a wider containers for the safeguarding of Holy souvenirs and icons acquired on their travels; almost the Tupperware box of its day.

It wasn't until the 19th Century that hip flasks changed into something more akin...

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