Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Intelligent Hand sponsored by The Balvenie

At the beginning of this month we were invited along to our first film premier. Oh it sounds all very show biz for two country bumpkins from Bedfordshire! And when we found out the event was held at the BAFTAs, well I was thinking ‘Should I prepare a speech? It mustn't be like Gwyneth Paltrow.’

No we didn’t go home with a BAFTA. What we did see was a moving documentary celebrating craftsmanship from around the world. The film was produced by James Rogan and was directed by Oliver Cheetham. 

Their journey and inspiration for this film grew from their initial short film that was commissioned by The Balvenie to honour David Stewart, Balvenie Malt Master, marking his half century involvement with William Grants & Sons Ltd, and for the launch of the Balvenie Fifty Year Old whisky in honour of this occasion. You can see this short film here: David Stewart 

I can see why they were inspired, for me it is great to see a big company like Balvenie choosing to employ and use as part of their operations, in-house coopers and copper-smiths, keeping these traditional skills alive. They don’t have to do this but by choosing to do so they are making a statement that says they care more about quality than quantity. For anyone that knows about the The Balvenie, you will know that craftsmanship runs through the core of their brand. From my interactions with various people from The Balvenie over the years, this value does seem to be more than skin deep. Additionally the Balvenie Double Wood is one of my favourite drams because it was the first dram that made me fall in love with it instantly, and still does.
James Rogen then had an idea about capturing stories of other craftspeople from around the world. Backed by The Balvenie he discovered these master craftspeople who are the focus of the film:

Biren Vaidya Jeweller, Mumbai, India

Isabella Wen  Fashion designer, Taipei, Taiwan

Rick Kelly  Luthier, New York, USA

Maxim Sharov  Handbag maker, Moscow, Russia

Paul Bergamo  Bell-founder, Normandy, France

The name of film was taken from French bell founder Paul Bergamo's description of craft. He said: “What’s really powerful and beautiful about craft is that these are professions that require a great theoretical knowledge, because we work with very technical things. But also what I call ‘the intelligence of the hand’ – things and know-how that you cannot write about, things that are handed down from worker to worker, from person to person.”

Not one of Rick Kelly’s but by a London base luthier
What I took from the film is the joy that each craft person gets from gaining as much knowledge as possible about their chosen craft, perfecting their skill until it becomes automatic; almost effortless and the importance of quality. For example, in the film the luthier, Rick Kelly talks about why he uses reclaimed wood from timbers that are over 100 years old, he said it’s because you can’t get the same sound from newer wood that’s been dried in a kiln. The way that these old timbers have been dried out naturally over decades, gives it special qualities, knots and all. With the skills he’s mastered, he incorporates the knots into the design of each guitar, making each piece completely unique. The uniformity of things made my machines doesn't have the same quality.

Another example is the bell foundry still using the same techniques that they did hundreds of years ago because it still offers the highest quality end product, however with a modern twist. He had the clever idea to cast the bells upside down as it was more efficient. Same idea that ship builders had during WWII to build ships upside down.

The two things that I found very moving, was how emotional Rick Kelly got when he talked about a bit of woodland that is very special to him, as he describe how magical this place is to him, tears formed in his eyes, choking him with emotion. Being among the trees, some very old big trees, surrounded by wood in its living form really connected with something deep within him. The second is Paul Bergamo being ecstatic about already reaching the pinnacle of his career by casting the bell at Notre Dame, and the first time that the bell was chimed, some 4,000 people turned up and were there waiting in silence to hear it. I can only imagine how electric the atmosphere would have been as he looked down on the crowd from the bell tower. 
From left: Award winning film maker Roger Graef OBE, Director Oliver Cheetham, Balvenie Brand Ambassador Sam Simmons, Jeweller Biren Vaidya, and Producer James Rogan.
Making good whisky is a craft as not only do you have to know the science, you’ve got to have that knack of knowing when its ready, that’s the magical part that Malt Masters, like David Stewart, learn through years of experience and trusting his intuition. 

A trailer of the film can be found here: The Intelligent Hand , and if you do get a chance to see the documentary in full it is well worth watching. 

On the night there were no new whisky discoveries. We did enjoy tasting the Doublewood 17 year old and the Caribbean Cask again, although checking the blog we haven't actually posted our thoughts on these yet

I would like to say thank you to The Balvenie for inviting us along to this Warehouse 24 event. 

Slàinte! Kat