Something a little different this week: I just finished posting a review of this documentary film on IMDB. Film is nearly as dear to me as books, and this is my first IMDB review. So I’d like to share it with you. “Scotch: A Golden Dram” is on Amazon streaming and other streaming venues, and on DVD in May as well.
A Golden Dram Is All It Takes
I recently read that documentaries are growing in popularity. The reason for that is evident in watching Andrew Peat’s most excellent film, “Scotch: A Golden Dram.”
Please note that last word is “dram,” not “dream.” (The American version uses “dream” while the U.K., much more to my liking, uses “dram.”) A dram is the quantity in which Scotch is served in Scotland (and likely elsewhere, to be sure.) But in watching this film, it becomes quite evident that having a sense of the dram is awfully important to Scots and the manner in which they consume their illustrious homegrown spirit. As a unit of measure it’s rather technical, but with regard to the amount of Scotch whisky poured into a glass, (preferably designed specifically for this purpose) and adding just the right amount of spring water to it, the dram is quite important.
Mr Peat’s documentary sets out to tell the story of Scotch, and to a great extent the national character of Scots, and succeeds in both respects. We see the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Islay, the rivers and streams, the peat bogs so necessary in providing fuel to the distilleries, the magnificent Highland cattle, the people.
We meet many delightful and interesting Scots. They portray such a love of Scotch whisky and the culture in which it thrives. They are so sweet, so cultured, so charming, so funny, so not-about-getting-drunk-on booze, that even a teetotaler would want a dram to see what all the adulation is about.
We learn how Scotch whisky is made, to be sure, but in such a skillful way that it never once feels like a lesson. You might be surprised to find out how important American oak casks (recycled from casking bourbon) are in creating the Scotch whisky’s taste and fragrance. You’ll hear tales that will have you laughing out loud. You’re also likely to frown when you learn how heavily the U.K. government taxes one of its most treasured produces.
But at the film’s core, it’s the story of Jim McEwan, who started in the business as a lad, an apprentice cooper, and retired 52 years on as a Master Distiller, ultimately responsible for every aspect of the whisky-maker’s art.
Mr Peat, through varied interviews, recognizes that any story good enough to be told is more about people than things, and such is the case in this consistently charming and interesting documentary. It never lags, whether filming people, distilling equipment, or the beautiful Scottish landscapes. We slowly but inexorably come to the conclusion that today’s story of Scotch is one that could not have been told without telling the story of Jim McEwan. “Scotch: A Golden Dram” is so good you don’t even need to be a Scotch drinker to enjoy it.
P.S. Andrew Peat is a friend. I met him and his lovely wife Maria when visiting the Penghu Islands, Taiwan, on a research trip for a novel. Andrew and Maria operate Villa Romana, a beautiful B&B on the coast of the South China Sea. Andrew is from Sonoma County, California, which I also claim as my spiritual birthright. He was incredibly helpful in my novel research, and apparently I returned the favor, for Andrew thanked me in his film’s credits, a first for me.