Review: The Amber Light / by Jason Hambrey


Earlier last month, The Amber Light premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Amidst the rising popularity of documentaries comes one guided by one of whisky’s best story-tellers, Dave Broom. I’m no film critic, but I was able to see a press screening of the film and I really enjoyed it - in fact, it moved me.
The film personifies whisky as a cultural product as it masterfully weaves together history, story-telling, technical details, music and poetry. As the film says: “Scotch’s story isn’t linear, it’s discursive, much like Scotland itself. It speaks of place and people, poetry and song.” It tells this story, and does so with remarkable simplicity, indeed, the first words are: “whisky is boiled beer”.

I loved the documentary. I thought it described Scotch as a part of culture in a clever, engaging way. It is narrated in the way you would hear a story in a conversation, complete with pauses, laughter, and emotion as Broom narrates.

My favourite part of the film is when Broom and Alan Winchester, the master distiller of Glenlivet, climb a mountain in the Cairngorms. As they set out, Broom reads an excerpt from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain:

 “Each of the senses is a way into what the mountain has to give. The palate can taste the wild berries,  blaeberry, ‘wild free-born cranberry’, and, most subtle and sweet of all, the avern or cloudberry, a name like a dream. The juicy gold globe melts against the tongue, but who can describe a flavour? The tongue cannot give it back. One must find the berries, golden-ripe, to know their taste.
So with the scents. All the aromatic and heady fragrances – pine and birch, bog myrtle, the spicy juniper, heather and the honey-sweet orchis, and the clean smell of wild thyme – mean nothing at all in words. They are there, to be smelled.”

A seemingly barren landscape turns fragrant, and an entirely new dimension of experiencing the world opens. Whisky has enabled me to discover anew the beautiful sense of smell, and with it, it’s changed my experience of the world. I think whisky brings us out to engage the world in a new way, and, as both whisky drinkers and as people, it’s vital to keep doing so!

Of all the whisky documentaries that I’ve seen, it’s my favourite. Find a chance to see this one! The film’s website will keep you up to date on screenings.