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17 Nov 2023

Scottish wedding traditions – drinking from the quaich

Written by James Walsh
A silver engraved quaich filled with whisky | Image by SergeBertasiusPhotography/Shutterstock
It might look like a simple silver bowl, but the importance of the quaich in Scottish tradition dates back centuries to the Highland clans. It’s the perfect symbol of unity and trust – but where did the tradition begin?

What is a quaich?

A quaich is a small, shallow bowl, usually with two handles. They come in different materials and designs, from simple oak versions to ornate silver or brass creations.

The word ‘quaich’ can be pronounced ‘quake’, but to nail the true pronunciation you’ll need to use the Scottish ‘ch’ sound, from words like loch or dreich, instead of a hard ‘k’ at the end.

‘Quaich’ comes from the Scottish Gaelic word ‘cuach’, meaning ‘cup’, and is often referred to as the ‘cup of friendship’ or ‘loving cup’.

The origins of the quaich

Like many Scottish traditions, the origins of the quaich are steeped in mystery and legend. Some theories link quaichs to the ancient Druids, some to gruesome ‘bleeding vessels’, and others to the shape of scallop shells.

One thing we know for certain is that a quaich is not your average drinking cup.

The history of the quaich dates back centuries. They were originally used at Highland clan gatherings to offer a welcoming drink to visiting guests, when taking a sip from the quaich as it was passed around was a way for opposing clans to show the beginning of a new friendship and prove their trust in one another. The existence of glass-bottom quaichs shows that some chiefs still insisted on keeping a close eye on their guests even while they drank.

To this day, the quaich still symbolises hospitality, peace, and friendship. It plays its part in various Scottish ceremonies, celebrations and commemorations, and has been presented as a gift by kings, queens, and prime ministers to their esteemed guests.

A bride and groom exchange rings during their wedding ceremony. The celebrant stands just behind them, beside a woven willow arch. An orchard is in the background.

Why have a quaich at your wedding?

Today the most common use of a quaich isn’t at clan gatherings, but happy couples tying the knot. Drinking from a quaich has been a Scottish wedding tradition for many years, and usually happens just after the signing of the register.

There’s no fixed way to do it. You can each hold one handle or pass the cup to one another, and you can choose to put whatever you want in your cup. Traditionally it is whisky that is sipped, but you can use brandy, water, or even a splash of tea (it’s been done!). In some cases you might even add a splash of a different drink so that they mix in the cup, representing your union.

What matters most is that this is a special moment; your first drink together as a married couple! It’s a wonderfully romantic way to celebrate your love and commitment to one another, and to show your love for Scotland on your big day.

Lots of people like to use a specially engraved quaich to mark the occasion, and quaichs are also a popular gift from wedding guests to the happy couple; a one-off item steeped in romance and tradition.

Get married at our places

We’re delighted to host elopement weddings at some of our favourite places, and if you get married at either Glencoe or Glenfinnan we’ll even provide you with your very own personalised quaich to use on the big day and cherish forever.

Getting married at our places is a perfect way to show your love for Scotland, and to support our work. You can find more ideas for your special day, and information about our wedding venues on our wedding pages.

For more inspiration and info

Visit our weddings page

A bride and groom stand on smooth rocks beside a gushing river. Pine trees grow on the far bank and mountains can be seen in the distance. Image: Hannah K Photography >