Scotch: The Golden Dram

 

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A film about a drink that carries Scotland’s fame around the world.

 
Scotch The Golden Dram
 

Not being a whisky drinker, I have to confess that I approached this documentary wondering if its subject was substantial enough to sustain a feature-length film. In the event, however, Andrew Peat’s Scotch: The Golden Dram erased those doubts. Admittedly, the pre-credit sequence comes on as a commercial twice over - one for Scotland and the other for the drink later described as that country’s heart and soul. It’s also the case that the film is one with enough talking heads to play well on television. But what matters is that it is a piece both engaging and informative assembled with real skill as it unfolds through a series of titled sections.

 

Central to the film is Jim McEwan a distiller and master blender now based on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. Peat adroitly blends McEwan’s history with a stage-by-stage explanation of the work process that leads via germination, fermentation and distillation to the final blending of the whisky ready to be bottled. These procedures give the film a shape, while variety comes from other sections inserted in between: the latter range from historical information on such matters as illegal stills to a group of contributors being asked to share recollections of drinking their first dram. If these people display what amounts to a religious devotion to whisky, that does not exclude humorous anecdotes that add to the appeal of the film.

 

As for Jim McEwan, despite contributions from his daughters, the emphasis is on his career. The earlier years are not ignored, but the film builds in its second half by concentrating on his endeavours to resuscitate the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay. The passion of all concerned in that project is vividly conveyed and, if Scotch: The Golden Dram seems to be coming across as a male-orientated work thus reflecting the history of the craft, the film cuts across that with a later segment devoted to ‘Women and Whisky’ as one of the written titles has it. Late on the film touches sensibly enough on yet other issues. Thus we hear contrary views on the superiority of young and old vintages and a montage features a range of opinions on the Secret of the Perfect Dram. Given the emphasis on Jim McEwan, it is fitting to include the final tasting that marked his retirement, but Peat does seem a shade reluctant to wind up at the close. No matter: those keen on whisky will be well satisfied by this film while, as my own experience proved, those who are not will find it a rewarding watch.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Jim McEwan, Richard Paterson, Dr Bill Lumsden, Ian MacMillan, Charles MacLean, Georgie Bell, Robbie Hughes, The Duke of Argyll, Georgie Crawford, Lynne McEwan.

 

Dir Andrew Peat, Pro Andrew Peat and Maria Chen, Ph Arjun Kamath, Ed Phillip Hughes with Andrew Elliott, Music Dustin Painter.

 

Concourse Media/Island Productions-Parkland Entertainment/Munro Films.
89 mins. UK/Taiwan. 2018. Rel: 8 March 2019. Cert. PG.