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The Water of Life A Whisky Film

Scotch whisky.

The name connotes many different things to different people. A beverage. A business. A country. Its history.

More so than any other beverage, scotch whisky—technically, just whisky—is synonymous with a unique geographic locale and the people behind it.

Our documentary The Water of Life explores the unique craft of whisky-making and the master craftsmen and women who have elevated that craft to an art. Inspired by (and utilizing some of the same post-production team as) Chef’s Table, The Water of Life delves into the stories of a handful of whisky masters and how they have learned to paint masterpieces using only barley, water, and yeast.

Shot on location in Scotland and around the world, ours is a story that can be enjoyed by whisky aficionados and non-drinkers alike because the film focuses not on the drink, but on the people, their craft, and the history of that craft as it is passed down from generation to generation.

Today is truly a golden age for whisky production, providing a unique opportunity to be involved in the history of this precious drink as its popularity spreads around the world.

The Water of Life encapsulates this moment. We invite you to join us on this journey…

Whisky has exploded in popularity and price around the world. Every day, new customers immerse themselves in this most unique of spirits. And as their knowledge grows, these consumers demand ever more complexity and innovation from each new dram they try.

Time and time again aficionados have proven they are willing to spend big money if the whisky delivers a transcendent experience. Distillers have both immense pressure and vast creative opportunities to stand out in this robust marketplace.

The Water of Life tells the stories of a handful of these whisky masters and how each has done just, coaxing their unique flavors from the barrels, the fires, the stills, even the warehouses themselves, via a process that in itself is nearly universal.

Some turn to the past, some invent the future, but all of them create incredible spirits, many of which they themselves will never experience after the decades necessary to complete aging.

The world seemingly cannot get enough.

With hundreds of distilleries across Scotland (and more popping up almost weekly), it would be impossible to tell all of their stories. Instead, we focus on a handful of distillers and craftspeople who are at the forefront of today’s global whisky explosion and how their work in this most special of industries impacts the people and towns throughout rural Scotland.

These images are available in the link above.

The Cast

At the center of our story is the legendary Jim McEwan.

Born next door to the Bowmore Distillery, Jim has spent his entire life in whisky, continually breaking new ground. With the recent opening of his latest venture, Ardnahoe Distillery, Jim realized a dream of building a new distillery from the ground up.

As a teenager Jim began working at Bowmore as a cooper’s apprentice (after some unofficial work sweeping floors as a boy). He went on to hold nearly every job that a distillery has to offer, even leaving at one point to become a master blender. He later returned to Bowmore as the master distiller for 12 years.

After expressing sorrow that the Bruichladdich Distillery — visible across Loch Indaal from Bowmore — stood closed, destiny called on Jim. He became part of the team that revitalized Bruichladdich, shaking the whisky world. With award after award, the Bruichladdich team signaled a bold new era in what could be accomplished with a drink that, by law, has only three ingredients. Jim created truly groundbreaking expressions, hiring dozens of locals who otherwise might have had to leave Islay, and in the process grew a once-mothballed distillery into a whisky powerhouse in less than 15 years.

But Jim is a master at something else, too: storytelling. His ribald and passionate tales about whisky and life on Islay are the stuff of legend, and they serve as the perfect complement to the drams he makes.

Liam Hughes, creator of the new Glasgow Distillery, its name as inconspicuous as its location in a suburban industrial estate, is commercially releasing its first whisky as this is being written. But it’s already creating a buzz and, in fact, sold out its entire pre-production run.

A transplanted Irishman, Hughes and his small outfit have created a large following for their Makar Gin, and the whisky has started winning awards at trade shows, led by their Prometheus.

Long before cask experimentation became common place, David Stewart was busy creating what is now universally known as The Balvenie DoubleWood. He’s been the malt master for William Grant & Sons for more than 55 years, has been honored by the Queen with an MBE, and has recently named his heir apparent, Kelsey McKechnie. We talk with master and apprentice together, exploring what goes into each day, year, and decade of making some of the world’s most respected whiskies.

When Billy Walker bought the mothballed BenRiach Distillery, people told him he was crazy. By the time he added Glendronach and Glenglassaugh to the stable, the critics had largely been silenced. Walker, who is both a master blender and a master entrepreneur, sold the three distilleries for nearly $400m a few years ago. Did he ride off into the sunset? No way. He bought the always overlooked GlenAllachie and set about changing the whisky landscape yet again.

Our Approach

Film being a format that doesn’t allow the viewer directly to experience its subject matter (in this case, to taste the drink) we faced a unique challenge: using the tools of cinema to emulate one of the most complex and nuanced sensory experiences known to humankind. With immersive shots, sounds, and stories, we immerse our viewers in an experience as visceral as being in Scotland itself, enjoying these spirits in person.

With all these elements working in concert, The Water of Life stands as an endearing love letter to the Blood of Scotland, its craftsmen and women, and the country itself.

The Producers

Greg Swartz

Twenty years ago, Greg Swartz walked away from a job as a newspaper reporter in his native Pennsylvania, making the move to Los Angeles to make films. After spending a year at Warner Bros., he moved into commercial production, eventually developing a client roster that includes Kia, BMW, United Airlines, and Gray Advertising.

His directorial debut Another Harvest Moon — described by Box-office Magazine as “Powerful, poignant, honest, uncompromising, and touching” — won two “Audience Choice” awards and stars Ernest Borgnine, Piper Laurie, Doris Roberts, Cybill Shepherd, Anne Meara, and Richard Schiff. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Trevor Jones

Originally from Toronto, Trevor Jones produced the hit National Geographic documentary on Billy the Kid, which represented the third docudrama project he produced for television after Discovery Channel’s Kidnap and Rescue, and Animal Planet’s Virus Hunters.

As a commercial producer, Trevor recently partnered with Kimmy Gatewood (GLOW) and Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) to produce three spots for Refinery29 on behalf of Planned Parenthood. He has also produced spots for Victoria’s Secret, Heineken, Coors, Polaris, and Indian Motorcycles, and a spot for Activision that was awarded an AICP award. He has produced music videos for such musicians as Kanye West, Devendra Banhart, and Gogol Bordello.

Brittany Curran

Brittany Curran currently splits her time between Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia, where she is a series regular on SyFy’s The Magicians.

She grew up in Cape Cod and Hingham, Massachusetts, before moving to Burbank, California, at eleven years old. A few months later, Curran made her small screen debut on Mad TV and then her big screen debut in 13 Going On 30.

Brittany went on to guest star and recur on many series, including The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Criminal Minds, Drake & Josh, Ghost Whisperer, and ABC Family’s Twisted. In 2009, Curran was cast as a series regular in the Emmy nominated series Men of a Certain Age, playing the daughter of Ray Romano. In 2011, she won an ensemble Peabody Award and was nominated for a Young Artist Award — for Supporting Young Actress — for her work on the series.

In 2013, Curran graduated from UCLA with a degree in American Literature. She attended UCLA while simultaneously filming a recurring role on NBC’s Chicago Fire and a lead role in the indie breakout hit Dear White People.

Brad Kenyon

With more than 25 years of film and video production, Brad is a co-founder and managing partner of Aurora Films, a full-service production company based in Central Pennsylvania.

Brad has a B.S. degree in Broadcast Communications and is certified as an Arriflex camera operator, with experience in both aerial and underwater cinematography.

He began his professional career producing, shooting, and editing corporate media for a company owned by a National Geographic underwater cinematographer. Following this, he worked as a freelance producer, cinematographer and editor, primarily on independent films and corporate videos. Aurora was founded in August of 2000 and takes a documentary-style approach to corporate video. For a list of the most current companies that Brad has worked with, visit www.aurorafilms.com.

Alfonse Palaima

Like motorcycling, Alfonse got a late start with the spirits-based lifestyle. Similarly, the learning curve for both riding a motorcycle and drinking adult beverages was rocky at first, but smoothed out over time.

Having grown into a long-distance rider and journalist in the motorcycle industry, Alfonse has been focused on the journey over the destination in the last twenty years. Through numerous careers as an artist, to programming, to photography, his path was wide and colorful.

A parallel journey through the world of libations happened during that time; grain to vodka, Irish whiskey to rum, wine to craft beer… and back again to whiskey, but without the ‘e’. The “good stuff” is now on his radar, and acting as co-producer to Water of Life, Alfonse merges his many talents into one. His mysterious blend of artistry and machinery, help to propel the WOL brand from concept to celluloid.

On location in Byron Bay, Australia.

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