This time we look at a higher budget documentary about the whisky industry. The Andrew Peat directed film was shot in 2015 and I remember at the time seeing chatter about the film crew being over at Bruichladdich following Jim McEwan. Andrew is an American filmmaker and teacher who works in China. The post production work apparently took a long time and for that reason it wasn’t until 2019 the film was released after 65 hours of footage was distilled down to just over 80 minutes. I don’t know if that is normal for a production but it seems somewhat excessive.
Using the talking head style the film uses a rather huge cast of industry figures from distillers and blenders to brand ambassadors and consultants. There will be lots of faces you recognise and perhaps you also follow them on twitter or indeed have met in person. At the end of the film when the credits roll you will notice another 15 people who were interviewed but not use in the final cut. Imagine being those poor people to take the time out your day and have nothing to show for it!
The film is partly a romantic view of whisky production in Scotland and goes through the process of how whisky is made and answers the usual kind of questions. Is older whisky better? Is UK alcohol duty too high? Does enough money from taxation come back to the islands?
The other plot is centred purely on Jim McEwan and Bruichladdich with the film crew being there for some of his last days before retirement. We go into the history of his career and the great storyteller recounts all the usual stories on which he has made his name. As hard as you might try you cannot help but be swept away when he gets into full flow and long for another trip to the Isle of Islay.
It wasn’t all rose tinted spectacles though as there is a heart warming section on the price his Bowmore job came with. Long stints spent on the road travelling the world are difficult on marriages and families and Jim doesn’t hide away from how difficult that aspect of his later Bowmore career were. I also have a young family and I couldn’t imagine having to spend 5 weeks in Asia multiple times a year as a normal part of my job.
I think that is the key theme which comes out of all the interviewees in the film. Everyone is in the industry because they want to. They are so driven and passionate about the work they do and the people they work beside. Especially if you look at the islanders where work to keep you on the island is hard to come by and jobs in whisky are a fraction of what they used to be. Production side teams are now only a handful of people when once before whole villages would be employed.
For me the enjoyment came from seeing Bruichladdich in a way which I don’t think exists anymore. In 2015 the distillery was coming to the end of a transition from independently owned distillery to being part of a massive corporate structure. The purchase in 2012 sent Mark Reynier packing and now Jim would be leaving as well.
Bruichladdich today has grown up and become a mature and sensible brand. They have more money and can invest in the future better than before perhaps but somehow with the loss of Jim, Duncan and Mark they aren’t quite as exciting. Is that fair? I don’t know but there is perhaps an entire MBA project in looking at the changes between the two versions of the business and their cultures.