Why did the Queen use whisky instead of champagne to launch her new warship?

We’re going to need more whisky if ships keep getting bigger.
We’re going to need more whisky if ships keep getting bigger.
Image: Reuters/David Moir
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The Queen has named Britain’s largest warship after herself in an opening ceremony—by breaking a bottle of Islay malt whisky* over the ship’s hull. The 88-year-old monarch didn’t quite do it herself; she pushed a button on an automated contraption that smashed the bottle on her behalf against the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier.

This is only the second recorded use of whisky to launch or name a new vessel, according to the Royal Navy. Traditionally, champagne has been used to inaugurate new ships while home-brewed beer is spilled on submarines. In Admiral Nelson’s era, at the peak of British naval power, brandy or madeira was probably used, the Navy said. The first time whisky was used was at the launch of the HMS Sutherland in 1996—for the record, it was Macallan Single Highland Malt whisky.

The Queen used a bottle of Bowmore Surf from the 235-year-old Bowmore Distillery on the island of Islay because it was the first distillery she had ever visited in an official capacity back in 1980, the Navy said. More likely, however, the choice of a whisky had a wee bit more to do with politics and the upcoming Scottish referendum on independence in September.

The naming ceremony was held at the Rosyth dockyard in Scotland, and the British prime minister took the opportunity to affirm the value of the United Kingdom staying together, and of course of having expensive and over-budget British military projects as clients for Scottish industry. Six shipyards and more than 10,000 people at more than 100 companies across the UK were used to build the HMS Queen Elizabeth. “It’s a really exciting day for Scotland, a great day for the United Kingdom and a sign of things to come if our country stays together,” David Cameron said.

For the Queen, the issue doesn’t make too much of a difference. She will stay on as head of state even if Scotland gains independence.

*Note: Irish and American varieties of the liquor are referred to as “whiskey” while Scotch whisky is spelt without the “e.”