Keepers of the what now? No, it’s not that flying broomstick game from Harry Potter. A Quaich (pronounced something like ‘quake’) is a two-handled shallow drinking vessel of Scottish origin.
They’re slightly medieval in appearance and have been used for centuries by Scottish Clans to offer a welcoming drink (often whisky) at Clan gatherings and occasions. As a result, the Quaich has rightly become synonymous with the enjoyment and conviviality of Scotch whisky.
Australia’s newest Keepers
Founded in 1988, The Keepers of the Quaich isn’t the kind of society you can just decide to join. Being invited to become a keeper is an honour bestowed on those who have made an outstanding commitment and contribution to the Scotch whisky industry, so it’s a pretty big deal. A few weeks ago, the society held it latest inductee ceremony at Blair Castle in Scotland where, amongst others, two Australians were inducted, Mr Ben Davidson and Mr Sven Almening.
So, when such an honour is bestowed on two locals with an impressive background in the drinks industry, what are you to do? Throw a pretty sweet party of course! Sven kindly offered up his flagship bar, Eau De Vie, as the venue whilst Ben brought the goods from the Pernod Ricard stable of whiskies. Even before I walked through the doors, I knew I’d be in for a rather enjoyable Monday night.
Ben earned his stripes in the drinks world as a bartender in LA back in the early 90s, before a career with the illustrious Rockpool Group that began on his return to Australia in 1997. That seems to have paved the way for a successful career with Pernod Ricard (going strong for over 10 years now), where he’s their longest serving ambassador. Having delivered thousands of training and tasting sessions, covering brands like The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Chivas Regal there’s no denying his commitment and that his contribution to the Scotch whisky industry has been considerable.
A lot of Sydneysiders have probably know of Sven in his capacity as the head of the Speakeasy Group; the company behind some of the country’s most iconic cocktail and whisky bars like Eau De Vie, The Roosevelt and Boilermaker House. But there’s actually a lot more to his whisky background – a side that many wouldn’t know about.
Prior to his Speakeasy days, Sven used to own and run a company called Behind Bars where he did a lot of work with whisky, particularly with Diageo and their Johnnie Walker and Classic Malts portfolio. He was instrumental in helping launch both Johnnie Walker Gold and Platinum labels into the Australian market and has done a lot of work on the Johnnie Walker brand over the past decade. He was involved in creating, managing and implementing tasting and training programs for both consumers and the bar industry with these initiatives reaching thousands of consumers and bartenders. No doubt furthering their understanding and appreciation of Scotch whisky.
In exchanging emails with Sven, I asked him what drew him to Scotch whisky in the first place and his open and candid response really resonated with me. “I think what has lured me into whisky – in addition to the fact I love its taste – is its amazing history, and the immense opportunity for exploration, and continuing education. I also love how whisky can transform a rubbish day to a great day. Or a good moment to a memorable moment”. Now isn’t that the truth!
The night was indeed a memorable one. As we took a seat, both Ben and Sven recounted their journey to Scotland and all of the side stories that came along with it. It almost felt as though we sitting comfy in a friend’s lounge room, sipping fine whisky and hearing about an epic holiday. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves on the drinks front, for this particular evening – and this post – really was all about the people in my opinion and recognizing they’re achievement.
How one first gets on the radar of the Keepers of the Quaich is something I’ll never know. However, if anyone from the Keepers Society does happen to read this, I suggest you keep a very close eye on Australia and the people contributing great things to the appreciation of Scotch whisky here. Because along with Ben and Sven, I believe we have some very worthy candidates on our shores (Andrew, Brooke and Jules – I’m pointing at you for starters).
For me personally, it was a privilege to be able to celebrate the achievements of these two local whisky legends, so I’d like to extend a special thanks to Pernod Ricard for the invitation and to Sven and the team at Eau De Vie for hosting us. If only more Mondays were like this.
For an extended photo set from the evening, head on over to The Whisky Ledger’s new Facebook page and give us a like whilst you’re at it!