I am perhaps far from the target audience for a film focused on the art of whiskey like The Water of Life – A Whisky Film or any spirit, for that matter. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the skill and artistry of producing such beverages, I just don’t possess a palate refined enough to distinguish a Glenfiddich from a Glengarry Glen Ross. That said, I found myself reeled in by the compelling look into the industry of single-malt whisky and its slow-and-steady rise in global popularity.
By amassing some of the most notable, most charismatic, and most prolific names in the business, the film is an excellent primer into the history and evolution of the beverage. Like a sturdy, finely crafted cask, writer/director Greg Swartz has a protective affinity for his subject that seeps into every frame, whether it’s an interview, a stationary shot of the liquid sliding into a glass, or a sweeping drone shot across the Scottish countryside. The filmmaker condenses the modern evolution of the whiskey industry, and in doing so, zeroes in on the Scottish island of Islay — thought by many experts to be the beating heart of the whiskey industry.
“…compelling look into the industry of single-malt whisky and its slow-and-steady rise in global popularity.”
Within this floating chunk of Earth with a population of about 3,000 is no fewer than nine distilleries, each taking advantage of the area’s particularly peaty malt. The Water of Life – A Whisky Film takes us through the island’s proud history of distillation, filled with a mixture of archival photos and breathtaking shots of its diverse terrain. In particular, we are told of the revival of the Bruichladdich distillery, founded in 1881 and located on the southwestern tip. Through the colorful recounting of those involved, we are also led down the path of whiskey’s resurgence in popularity in the mainstream and the appreciation for a “single malt” product.
Like any fine product, there is an art and science involved in whiskey’s production. By spreading its story through so many connected narratives, The Water of Life – A Whisky Film succeeds in being much more than a series of talking heads. In 2018, a similarly themed film, Scotch: A Golden Dream, also featured some of the same heavy-hitters featured here. This includes the affable, no-nonsense master distiller Jim McEwan and the prosaic whiskey scribe Charles MacLean.
But it succeeds where some of its predecessors came up a tad short, in that it never feels dry or too insular about its culture and is as welcoming to the novice as it is the seasoned sommelier. From mad scientists to modern scholars of spirits, The Water of Life – A Whisky Film is punctuated with colorful characters, artisanal pride, and more than a little sheer luck. Swartz has woven it all into a deeply affectionate, informative tale that should whet the appetite of viewers. They will want to run out and rewatch with a dram in hand to salute the effort of those featured within.
"…never feels dry or too insular about its culture, and is as welcoming to the novice as it is the seasoned sommelier."