A good film paired with the right whiskey brings out the best flavors of both. Here are a few of my favorite whiskey movies:
Young Scottish delinquents who met through court-mandated community service are introduced to the delightful flavors of Scotch. They expose the gullibility of the uppity Scotch collecting community willing to pay 1.2 million pounds for one cask of whisky while putting some of the Scotch to their own use. Scottish wit and grit combines with plenty of gratuitous whisky shots.
Helpfully subtitled for the Scottish to English translation.
Whisky rating: After the original story set-up, whisky features prominently in this film, showing its versatility by starring in scenes at a high-end auction and blind tasting, as well as slumming it in a communal pitcher. Beware the lumpy Scotch.
Pairs nicely with: Scotch. Balblair, Deanston, Glengoyn, Glenfarclas, Cragganmore
Lost in Translation
This movie embodies balance, beauty, silence, and complex simplicity. Just like Japanese whisky. The whisky is not only the excuse for Bob Harris (Bill Murray) to be in Tokyo, but also a comfort, a date in loneliness, a representation of longing. Despite the fact that Bob Harris is selling Hibiki 17 in a commercial, the director wants a Western look – James Bond (Roger Moore), Sinatra, Dean Martin. The whisky transcends the lack of understanding for the language or culture. Bob Harris connects with the whisky, and he connects with Charlotte (a young Scarlett Johansson), who is there with an absent husband and also soul-searching.
Whiskey Rating: High. Bill Murray often has a highball in hand, and whisky is a suave, elegant prop that provides the excuse for the movie even if it doesn’t drive the movie.
Pairs nicely with: Suntory Hibiki 17 (or 12). “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”
Waking Ned Divine
From the first views of the Irish coastline, you just want a dram. This movie isn’t centered around whiskey. But it’s Irish - whiskey is kind of just around, especially when it’s time for celebrating. And the cover – as well as a key scene – features a whiskey toast by the sea. The movie involves a small, Irish town joining in on massive Lottery fraud, but they are just so darn cute and charming, you hope it works out. I wouldn’t say it works out for everyone…but mostly. Be prepared to laugh, even sober. And if you don’t laugh – especially in the scene where the string breaks – then I’m not sure we could be friends.
Whiskey rating: Whiskey plays out very well in this film – people drink and people are happy when they drink.
Pairs nicely with: Irish whiskey. Paddy and Jameson are featured, but I’d take it with a little Powers or Midleton myself.
It takes place mostly in a bar and involves Humphrey Bogart, whose famous last words were reported to be “I never should have switched from Scotch to martinis.” It’s bourbon, however, not Scotch that is most referenced in this very pro-America, anti-Nazi film. Bourbon is what gets Rick (Bogie) drinking again when the love that devastated him in Paris shows up at his bar in Morocco. He and a bottle share a long night, and by the end, his watery, whiskey eyes are a picture of poignant heartbreak and regret. Bogie’s accent, a bottle of bourbon, and some jazz played by Sam – it hurts so good.
Whiskey rating: Whiskey is the understated status symbol. The two main bar owners – the power people in town – drink bourbon straight. And sometimes by the bottle.
Pairs nicely with: A patriotic bourbon like Jefferson or Eagle Rare. But I would also pair this with something classy that you might miss when you are away from home, like Willett.
Chicago and New York in the 1930’s – bread lines, hit men, and cons. And a young, green Robert Redford with a smooth Paul Newman. This is a movie that fools everyone, including the audience, and it is a lot of fun dodging the corrupt police, looking out for cheating at cards, and wondering how they are going to put together a Western Union office in 2 minutes. Things don’t always go as planned – or do they?
Whiskey rating: Horse racing, poker, and con men. The whiskey is there.
Pairs nicely with: Templeton Rye for that Chicago connection. Blanton’s for the horses.
Obviously, any good whiskey movie list needs a Western. I have a soft spot in my heart by the whiskey spot in my heart because I used to watch them with my grandfather – the one who kept his wallet in his cowboy boots. I’m not sure I could name any that we watched, but they all had a swaggering hero (usually John Wayne), horses riding across a vast desert, and a saloon scene.
My personal preference for Westerns now involves young Clint Eastwood in a poncho, so I immediately went for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Spoiler alert for cuteness – Clint Eastwood holds a kitten in one scene. (Pause for sigh). But back to whiskey. It is the first reference to alcohol in the film, but it really caters more to the bad and ugly, to be honest. The good do not drink much. However, those long, dusty desert scenes make me thirsty for sure. And something about Clint’s squinted eyes with that epic soundtrack just says “bourbon.”
Whiskey rating: Incidental. Whiskey is implied throughout the movie, but it’s not front and center.
Pairs nicely with: Jack Daniel’s Old 57. Elmer T Lee. Anything out of a flask or canteen.
For something a little more classic, I will go with Stagecoach, co-starring John Wayne in his breakthrough role. It doesn’t get any more Western – the iconic desert, arrows flying, John Wayne climbing on top of a moving stage coach to shoot the approaching enemy with pretty fantastic aim considering the circumstances. And this stagecoach is filled with all the basic characters – the drunk . The floosy. The lady. The gentleman. The nervous man. The sheriff named Curly. The blowhard. The funny driver. And, of course, John Wayne. If all those crammed in a stagecoach doesn’t make you need a drink, then they also have a lengthy saloon scene at the end. See, the scene with the Apaches chasing the stagecoach wasn’t the real showdown. John Wayne – a.k.a. Ringo Kid – has revenge on his mind and it’s directed at the man in the black hat playing cards at the saloon in Lordsburg. The cowboys are lined up at the bar with their shot glasses. The piano player stops at just the right moment to create the awkward tension. Someone slides a bottle across the bar. A hand tries to steady itself to throw back a shot of liquid courage. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it.
Whiskey Rating: High. One of the guys in a stagecoach is a “whiskey drummer” – I think today that would be an ambassador? – and there is a steady flow of drink throughout the film.
Pairs nicely with: The classics. Wild Turkey. Bulleit (“frontier whiskey”). George T. Stagg. W.L. Weller.