Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram

Read “Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram” with a glass of whisky in one hand— be it neat or on the rocks— and a Scottish map in the other. With this book, Iain Banks explored non-fiction writing for the only time, having previously written mainstream fiction and science-fiction under a nom de plume of Iain M. Banks.

The Face Behind Non-fiction

Banks, at the very outset, states that he enjoys whisky on account of its sheer complexity. The process it goes through, right from the malting stage to that of ageing in barrels, makes it nothing less than a work of art. His honesty, however, does not reek of overconfidence. He maintains that he appreciates whisky for its taste and not the effect it produces. He does not disapprove of those who enjoy the hardest of all spirits for its tipsy aftereffect. Apparently, “two units a day” is good enough to get “out of your head”, albeit an “exclusive, legal, relatively expensive and pleasant” way at that.

The Man Who Loved to Travel

Writing, motor vehicles, his native land, and his recent love for whisky comprised Banks’ passions at the time of this non-fictional development. It all came together and provided a fitting setting as he drove all around the Scottish Highlands in search of the perfect dram. Initially, he was expected by his publisher to go around Scottish distilleries in search of the perfect malt, with a Glasgow cabbie in a black cab. Nevertheless, he went on a series of road trips on his extensive collection of motor vehicles and explored Scotland’s finest whiskies.

Other themes prevalent in the book include Banks’ whole-hearted disdain for George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. So much so that the core subject matter of the book seems unimportant at times while he delves into engrossing accounts of the same. Whisky, he recounts, has always been “up to its bottle neck” in politics. After a crop failure in 1579, the parliament in Scotland had banned distillation to protect food supplies. Then there’s always a disagreement between those nationals who claim that Scotch should be restricted within its national borders. (It is a matter of exclusive Scottish pride and large corporations manufacturing the spirit and earning profits by exploiting its potential.) Naturally, when he sees anti-war posters on the road while on his journey, he rants about the illegal Iraqi invasion as a major thematic point.