Updated: Jul 9
In this journey through the lesser-known parts of Scottish whisky culture, you follow spirits writer Dave Broom on his quest to gain a deeper understanding of his national drink. While whisky has never been as popular, it is often seen in the context of being a brand which sits outside people’s lives. It’s often thought of as a drink which speaks of the past rather than engaged with a dynamic present.
"This agreeable documentary combines the social history of drinking whisky with a tour of Scotland."
Mike McCahill, The Guardian
The Amber Light shows that Scotch is (and has always been) a cultural product, part of a ‘cultural terroir’. It unpicks some of the myths and half-truths which have adhered themselves to whisky, reclaiming the unheard, the funny, the offbeat and surprising truths that lie beneath.
Park and Broom cover a lot of ground, at a distiller’s measured pace. Opening on Islay, with an immensely watchable primer on peat-cutting, they cook up medicinal whisky in woodland and visit East Fife’s new microbrewery hotspot, between trips inland to city pubs for rendezvous with such eminent thinkers and drinkers as Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray. This quasi-magazine show treatment permits Park and Broom multiple lines of approach to the roots of Scottish drinking culture: whisky as a bringer of warmth, and a means of reconnecting with the land. It also permits some re-examination of stereotypes. As Rankin euphemistically observes, “Sometimes [whisky] brings out the worst in you”, providing the film’s own “drink responsibly” disclaimer.
Adam Park’s documentary opens with a title card acknowledging that “the story of whisky is a familiar one”, before carving out its own distinct and distinctly engaging niche. It’s less interested in the business side of whisky than its social aspect: how this liquid gold has been drunk through the ages.
To this end, Park joins the whisky scholar Dave Broom on a tour of Scotland, and those sites where the drink was originated, developed, reclaimed and knocked back. Dave, who grew up in Glasgow, has been writing about spirits for over thirty years, but whisky is his particular passion and a subject on which he has many strong opinions. This film traces his journey back to the roots of whisky and shows how it is an integral part of Scottish culture. He will speak to key players in all aspects of whisky – farmers, distillers, bar owners - as well as artists, writers, chefs, poets and musicians.
The broad remit means there are places where it might seem wobbly or fuzzy-headed: I wasn’t sure Broom’s musician pals brought much to the table, beyond drinking songs that admittedly break up the talk. Yet the camera keeps landing on the kind of satisfying, weathered textures you’d want from any glass of Glenlivet, while Gray raises the suggestion that Scotland remains a series of islands squashed together into co-existence, which may be worth considering as the independence debate grows louder.
The journey takes the team from Glasgow to Islay, to establish why Scotland makes whisky in the first place, its links with the land and medicine, and how today’s farmers are reviving ancient practices. From there, they head north to Speyside, where we tell whisky’s story as it begins to evolve into the spirit we know today. Then it’s on to Fife, with its rich musical community and forward-thinking distillers, before ending in Edinburgh, examining the rich links between Scotch and literature and discussing whisky’s future.
Invariably – this having clearly been one of documentary’s more enjoyable shoots – their itinerary involves Broom taking a dram or two himself. The title refers to the impeccably hip watering hole the film concludes in, but also to the warm, convivial glow radiating out from the screen.
On 31st July 2020, polyband will initially release THE AMBER LIGHT exclusively on DVD for spirits retailers. The exclusive limited edition includes the DVD box with reversible cover, artwork film poster by the Scottish artist Katie Guthrie and an extensive and informative booklet.
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