Distilling whisky,an age-old tradition,and stone making for a rapidly growing sport are just two Scottish traditions on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s 37th annual Folklife Festival,which began Wednesday.
Stone making for the Olympic sport of curling and how Scotch whisky is made are part of the Scotland section of the festival,which also includes cultural traditions from Mali and Appalachia on the National Mall.
“We made the stones for the Olympics,” said Russell Wyllie of curling stone manufacturer Kays of Scotland. Curling first became a medal sport in the Olympics at the 1998 Nagano games. The game has since taken off in popularity,Wyllie said.
The earliest known curling stones came from the Stirling and Perth regions of Scotland around 1511,according to the Olympics Web site. The sport now features two four-person teams sliding stones across a sheet of ice toward a target. One person “throws” the stone and the others sweep the ice to change the stone's velocity and direction.
Kays of Scotland,the only curling stone manufacturer in Scotland,gets granite to make the stones from Alisa Craig,a granite-rich island off the western coast of Scotland. Each stone weighs about 44 pounds,but Wyllie said the weight is somewhat misleading.
“When you're on the ice,it seems lighter,” Wyllie said.
He and his brother-in-law,James Wyllie,a direct descendent company's founders,demonstrated to dozens of onlookers how each stone is made and answered questions about the sport.
The stones are cut from the granite to be precisely the same circumference. Russell Wyllie said leftover pieces are used to make small stones for trophies and junior players.
“We use what's left over for the wee ones,” Russell said.
Virginia Randolph,a 65-year-old retired nurse from Washington attending the festival,said she learned a lot about curling.
“I knew nothing about curling,” Randolph said. “I don't think I'll take it up,mind you.”
About 20 yards farther down the mall,the banging of copper and the smell of barley greeted visitors. William Grant & Sons Distillers was demonstrating how to make its Scotch whisky,Glenfiddich.
“The smell in a barrel to me is just unbelievable,” said Peter Gordon,business developer for William Grant & Sons. The company had empty whisky barrels on hand for people to smell.
No whisky was available for sale or to drink,however,because of National Park Service rules banning alcohol consumption on parkland,said Dougie Waugh,a distiller for William Grant. This was a slight disappointment for Claude Letien, 56,of Washington,an information security officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It's too bad you're not allowed to try the whisky,” Letien said.
Gordon said one of the best parts about coming to Washington is having his distillery workers show people the work they have been doing for decades. Letien was grateful they came.
“I think it's a neat way to sample cultural life,” he said.
The festival runs through Sunday and again July 2 to 6.