Today we fly from the U.S. to Scotland to begin filming for our next documentary, currently entitled “Whisk(e)y Chasing.” The film is an exploration of the beautiful world of whisky, its production, history and culture, and also a tribute to Michael Jackson, who was known to the world as both the ‘Beer Hunter’ and the ‘Whisky Chaser.’
With a background in journalism, during a time when most “serious” writers were engaged in writing about wine and food, Michael became a steadfast devotee of all things grain. He was so prolific and dedicated to this pursuit, that he became known by the titles of “Beer Hunter”, “Whisky Chaser”, and the “Maven of Malt” to his enthusiastic followers and readers. His books about beer and whiskey have sold millions of copies around the world and have been translated into dozens of languages. His influence in the world of craft beer and distilling simply cannot be overestimated.
Whisky Chasing film is a follow-up to our previous film, entitled Beer Hunter: The Movie. Beer Hunter celebrated Michael’s remarkable career and legacy in the evolution of craft beer. I had the great pleasure and fortune to travel with Michael from 2004-2006, filming breweries and tastings for his Rare Beer Club. I discovered what much of the beer world already knew, that Michael was simply one of the most endearing, enlightening, and entertaining voices for the appreciation and art of craft brewing. His gift was not only a remarkable palate and ability to recognize flavors; his real contribution to beer writing and appreciation was an ability to tell the story about the people behind the beers he found. He brought a human touch to his work that very few writers have been able to since match. Besides his books and extensive list of magazine articles, his television series “The Beer Hunter”, which aired on Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel, vaulted his name and personality into the mainstream. He almost single-handedly inspired the craft beer revolution that started in the U.S. and has since spread to all corners of the globe. When he died unexpectedly in 2007, the beer world was left shocked and saddened by the loss of one of their most beloved champions. The Beer Hunter movie was a tribute to Michael’s life and legacy, and a short history of the craft brewing movement. The film was warmly received and has screened all over the world since its premiere at the Craft Brewers Conference in 2013.
But what I realized in the making of the Beer Hunter movie, was that very few people in the world of beer had any idea of how influential and admired Michael was in the world of whisky (spelled ‘whiskey’ outside of the UK), and conversely, I doubted that many of his readers and admirers in the whisky realm didn’t realize how important he was in the craft beer world. So the idea for another film was born, a chance to bridge the gap between two separate but very closely related worlds. In much the same was as his books about beer became the standard source of information about that topic, so did his books about whiskey become instant classics. Michael’s book The Malt Whiskey Companion was for a very long time the best selling book on the subject (it may still be), and I can clearly recall Michael’s agent saying that most of his income derived from sales of his whisky books, and not his books about beer. So Whiskey Chaser is not only a tribute to Michael and his work in distilled malts, it’s also an exploration of the beauty and traditions of the whisky lands and the art and craft of whisky production and distilling. With so much interest in the States now about distilling, much of it coming from brewers and beer enthusiasts, there seems to be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the shared beauty and passion of these two crafts.
My wife and I decided that this journey should begin in Scotland, the country that has most passionately embraced the art of distilling grain. Michael’s books and voice, in particular his book Whiskey: The Definitive Guide will be our inspiration and a sort of working script, and we hope to bring to life so much of what enriched this remarkable book: the influences of elements such as water, geology, climate, heather, seaweed, oak, and salty air. We want to capture the music and culture and food in the various centers of whisky production, and we want Michael’s fellow writers and colleagues, other whisky chasers who wrote their own chapters in the book Whiskey, to serve as our guides in this journey.
Tomorrow we will arrive in Glasgow for almost two weeks of exploring Scotland and speaking with a wide range of people involved in Scotch whisky. In Edinburgh we’ll be joining Blair Bowman, the young organizer of World Whisky Festival, at the Scotch Whisky Experience and talking about a new generation of whisky enthusiasts. We’ll be interviewing legendary whisky writer Charles Maclean at his private tasting room in Edinburgh, talking about his extensive field research and Michael influence in the craft distilling renaissance. We’ll be traveling to the island of Islay, the celebrated home of Scotland’s most intense and powerful single malts, to meet with Michael’s dear friend and fellow whisky writer Martine Nouet, whom I had the pleasure of meeting with Michael at a whisky tasitng in Paris back in 2004. We’ll be touring Islay with Martine and enjoying one of her passions and specialties, that of cooking with whisky and pairing food and spirits.
After Islay we’ll wander up through Oban, through the Loch country, and then explore some national parks, and onto the Highlands. Then we’ll arrive in the Speyside region of the Highlands for a few days to explore the part of Scotland holding the largest number of distilleries, and making their signature style of more delicate, sherry and honied single malts. We’re keeping a few days open to see what happens, as we hear that Scotland is a place where making new, unexpected friendships is to be expected. From our footage and experience we’ll put together a trailer and rough outline of the film, and as we did with the Beer Hunter, we’ll turn to Kickstarter and the community of whisky and beer lovers around the world to help us make this next film a reality, and worthy of Michael’s legacy. Stay tuned for more info on that.
We’ll be updating this blog as often as possible with photos, video clips, and stories from our travels and the making of the film. This is a voyage of discovery, into a region we know very little about, researching a subject that we are only now beginning to understand. But Michael’s spirit and legacy will be our guide, and I have no doubt that our first trip to Scotland will be a journey to remember.
Cheers, and see you in Scotland for a wee dram or two!
J.R. and Ali