Friday, September 6, 2013

Raw Spirit. In Search of the Perfect Dram by Iain Banks

Feat. a shameless plug for my favorite local bookstore
...This book will, inevitably, be about me, my family and my friends too, especially those friends who have been persuaded - with, you may not be surprised to learn, no great deal of body-part manipulation involved - to take part in this project. [...] This, let's face it, is a book about one of the hardest of hard liquors and for all this Let's be mature, I just drink it for the taste not the effect, honest, Two units a day only stuff... it is, basically, a legal, exclusive, relatively expensive but very pleasant way of getting out of your head.

The introduction to this book is pages long, detailing what it will and won't be about, and it is such a well written introduction that I almost missed getting onto my bus: luckily the bus driver stopped and asked if I wanted in, and smilingly commented about how I must be reading a really good book to be so enthralled with it. "It's a book about whisky!" I chirped, probably looking a bit too happy.

When a publisher contacts an author to write a book about Scottish whisky--research expenses included--I doubt anyone in their right mind would say no.

Neither did Banks, who took off to the task with an unsurprising number of friends offering their help.

The result is a book that by title sounds like a whisky connoisseur's delight, but is more of an autobiography of adulthood antics involving alcohol, book fairs and cons, fellow skiffy writers and editors; it's about Banks's love of cars as he drives down the wee roads toward distilleries, about nieces snickering when he falls off a dock unceremoniously. And puns. All of this is tied up in the love of whisky, or what particular whiskies evoke in the author.

In the end, that's what senses are: subjective. One man's dram is another man's nightmare from college. There cannot be a perfect drink--it is only perfect to you, with perfection built up from all the experiences surrounding the tasting. Although Banks's tastes lie on the more expensive side--which he sheepishly admits--he does warn dear readers not to let their wallet guide their taste buds, and to be on the lookout for a drink they truly like.

Raw Spirit is a down-to-earth narrative of having a good drink and the professionalism that goes into distilling one, peppered with loads of self-deprecating anecdotes and sudden politic outbursts (Banks was commissioned to begin research right at the start of the Iraqi war--he reserves the words "shite" and "fucking" pretty much exclusively for these little paragraphs).

And, as usual with Banks, the whole thing is just marvelously written. The only bits I noticed glazing over were parts where he's in love with his cars, simply because I could not care less.


  1. Päätin juuri että on pakko antaa Jaakolle synttärilahja puolitoista viikkoa ajoissa... en malta kun sen sun bussipysäkkipäivityksen jälkeen tilasin tuon kirjan ja sen eilen sain postista. Vähän selasin ja koska olen itsekin Skotlannissa aikaa viettänyt useamman kuukauden, lopun ääntämisohjeet kutkutti heti. Ja jos en anna sitä kirjaa Jaakolle niin ei voi itsekään sitä lukea ;)

  2. Hei, jee! Ja hauskaa, että tilasit sen tuon bussitarinan siivittämänä - toivottavasti ei nyt ole pettymys se kirja kun sitä olen niin hypettänyt. ;) Ja niin, unohdin mainita niistä ääntämisohjeista! Fitba! :D Sano sitten, mitä mieltä olit(te).