Dir: Andrew Peat | 89′ Doc, US
If you ever wanted to discover whisky then Scotch: The Golden Dram is the film. Awash with tweedy talking heads and wistful views of the lochs in the gloaming, this is a well-crafted documentary that presents a romanticised view of the luscious liquor it explores and an industry that has retained much of its handmade credentials, unlike many of the other tipples in your booze cabinet.
Placidly-paced and as comforting as the Scotch-grown barley that goes into the barrel, this is a film made entirely by a non-Scottish crew: the aptly-named director Andrew Peat is American, the DoP is Indian and the production company is from Taiwan – which incidentally is the world’s fourth-largest importer of Scotch (apart from producing a fine quality whisky in its own right). But this small point is all too symptomatic of British industry that has sold its soul to the rest of the World, along with many others: Cadbury’s, Wedgewood and Jaguar. Today, Scotch is a multi-million pound business enjoyed in more than 200 countries, generating over $6 billion in exports each year.
Completely shot on location in Scotland The Golden Dram offers fascinating insight into traditional production methods while telling the story of the Gaelic Uisge beatha or “water of life.” For more than a century, Scotch whisky has been the premier international spirit of choice. While Irish whiskey is triple-distilled, Scotch undergoes only two distillations and uses peat-smoked and wholly-malted Scotch barley before it is blended or bottled as a single malt – although age doesn’t always confer smoothness. According to one expert, old barrel can give the spirit a bitter tang. So buying an expensive bottle is just about the rarity value.
Far from being a dry documentary about how whisky comes into being, this is a tightly edited tale of the characters who make the amber nectar such as Jim McEwan, the distiller and master blender, a 52-year industry veteran, who guides us through the story. Just as wine-winemaking is an art and a science, so too is whisky distilling. Although they prefer to call it “alchemy”. And the handmade whiskys are literally that – with men mulling over the process and deciding when to take the clear alcohol produced during distillation and transfer to oak barrels where it gains its flavour and aroma, depending on their origin. We meet Richard Paterson, a master blender who nose alone is insured for $2.5 million, and even the Duke of Argyll has his say.
And the packaging is one of the crucial aspects of the business. A high class whisky demands luxurious packaging – after all it’s going to take pride of place on the sideboard or in the glitzy showcase of a 5 star hotel. Glasstorm, a company specialising in hand-made bottles for rare whiskies can sell for thousands of pounds.
Occasionally verging on the elegiac in the final scenes, where it overdoes the personal touch, this is a pleasurable and engrossing film that will appeal to connoisseurs of the liquor and those wishing for a more in-depth look at the characters behind the dream. The DVD would make a perfect gift for those Christmas stockings or grandpa’s birthday – look who’s getting personal now?. MT
ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 8 MARCH 2019