Iain Banks is on a quest to find the perfect single malt whisky. He travels all over Scotland to most of the country's distilleries and samples many different malts. The book appealed to me because it is about travelling in Scotland and visiting distilleries, two things I love to do. I looked forward to reading Banks' view of many of the places that I have visited.
Iain Banks was a Scottish fiction and science fiction writer who died in 2013. Raw Spirit was his only non-fiction book.
He was a self-confessed petrol-head and much of the book is about the different vehicles that he used to get to the distilleries. He devoted several pages to describing the various qualities of these cars. I was misled by the blurb on the back page that he also used bikes to get around- this turned out to be one journey on a motorbike. So, quite the opposite of the cyclingscot website!
The book is also about the friends that Iain Banks travelled with and reminiscing about good times with them. The Iraq War had just begun at the time of his journey and he states his personal opinions about this, despite it having nothing to do with whisky.
When he is sharing his experience of the distilleries he describes the architecture, surroundings and ambiance just right. His visit to the Islay distilleries brought back happy memories of my trip to these gorgeous buildings:
"They look elegant. They have whitewashed walls, black roofs and black detailing, pagodas standing proud, clipped lawns and a general air of discreet pride."
I like his witty observations and honesty, particularly when discovering that after visiting so many distillery visitor centres they start to feel very similar:
"There is now a kind of Visitor Centre Vernacular, a recognisable, getting-on-for industry-wide style of layout and furnishing...There will probably be lots of wood and sometimes quite a lot of exposed stonework, there will be a darkened area where you can sit or stand and watch a visual presentation which will tend to major on sparkling streams gurgling across moody moors and over bulbous boulders swaying sunlit fields of barley, gleaming great stills, old buildings wreathed in steam and atmospherically lit barrels in dark warehouses."
The way that he describes tasting the whisky made me want to go out and buy a bottle right away and dive in. Macallan was one of his favourites, even before embarking on this quest:
"There's honey, Christmas cake, Heather, a whole fruit bowl of citrus tones, smokiness, syrup, peat (usually fairly elusive, but pocking its head out of the thickets of other tastes now and again), vanilla, leather, straw, ginger and even other sorts of wood beside the oak you'd expect in there; cedar is one, and I thought I smelled something like the balsa wood we used for the initial few lessons we used in first year woodwork class."
I would have liked a bit more about the landscapes and scenery that is travelled through, but this is largely a description of the roads and how good they are for driving on. Even so, the writing still gives a good impression of the beauty of Scotland. The passion that Banks has for Scotland and whisky comes across throughout the book.
An enjoyable book that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning a bit more about whisky in an easy to read and witty prose.
If you are wondering what his favourite whisky is, you will just have to read the book to find out. I am not going to spoil the ending!
You can buy it from the link below. It takes you to Amazon.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.