Why The Queen Smashed A Perfectly Good Bottle of Whisky on Her Navy’s Largest Ship

August 5, 2014

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Mike Keiller, who runs the Bowmore distillery on Scotland’s Isle of Islay, doesn’t like to see his single malt whisky spilled. “We wouldn’t generally recommend smashing a bottle of Bowmore,” he says. But he is willing to make exceptions, especially when they involve the Queen.

Last month, Queen Elizabeth II used a bottle of Bowmore Surf (tasting notes: bursting with warm smoke, oak and hone and balanced with a hint of zesty lime) to launch the Royal Navy’s latest and largest vessel, the eponymous HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The whisky came from a special barrel set aside in 1980, when the Queen came to Bowmore, her first and only visit to a whisky distillery in an official capacity.

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Queen Elizabeth II at the naming ceremony. Top Image: A tug pulls the ship out of her dock. Image Credit: The Aircraft Alliance

The 65,000-ton steel ship was assembled in Rosyth, Scotland, hence the use of whiskey instead of champagne. It is the first of two ships in the Royal Navy’s new class of aircraft carriers called the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC). When completed, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be the second largest aircraft carriers in the world after America’s Nimitz Class ships.

The British vessels will also be the world’s first all-electric aircraft carriers. They will rely on technology from GE’s Power Conversion unit, which built the aircraft carrier’s integrated full electric propulsion systems and electrical power control and management systems.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth floats outside the dock in Rosyth. The Royal Navy typically launches ships by smashing a bottle of champagne against the hull. Submarines are an exception. They are launched with bottles of “home brew” beer.

The electrical systems allowed ship builders to shrink the overall size of the cables, equipment and propulsion machinery that power the propellers, and leave more room for crew and aircraft. The Royal Navy will be also able to operate the vessels more efficiently.

 “With mechanical ships, you usually have one engine driving the shaft and another driving the [power] generator, and neither would be running at full power or at their best,” says Mark Dannatt, naval director at GE Power Conversion. “With the QEC carriers, we have engines that just produce electricity for the ship. That enables us to run the ship at the most efficient operating point and only generate the power we need.”

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GE power systems are already at work on board of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyer class ships, the U.S. Navy’s stealth destroyer USS Zumwalt, and many other vessels, including giant LNG carriers and passenger ships.

HMS Queen Elizabeth took to the water for the first time on July 17. Sea trials are expected to begin in 2016. 

Said U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond before last month’s whisky-soaked launch: “This will be an occasion when it’s OK to spill a drop.”

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A cross section of the aircraft carrier’s hull.