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Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram [Hardcover]

Iain Banks
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Nov 2003
As a native of Scotland, bestselling author Iain Banks has decided to undertake a tour of the distilleries of his homeland in a bid to uncover the unique spirit of the single malt. Visiting some of the world's most famous distilleries and also some of its smallest and most obscure ones, Banks embarks on a journey of discovery which educates him about the places, people and products surrounding the centuries-old tradition of whisky production. Using various modes of transport - ferries to the islands, cars across the highlands, even bicycles between bus-stops - Banks' tour of Scotland combines history, literature and landscape in an entertaining and informative account of an exploration in which the arrival is by no means the most important part of the journey. (20030303)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Century; 1st Edition edition (6 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844131955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844131952
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. He gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels. Iain Banks died in June 2013.

Product Description


"It’s a very readable and hugely informative book, and Bank’s gentle humour permeates the pages." -- Time Out

"It’s an engaging piece of work, part love letter, part memoir…" -- Esquire

"Scotland’s most favorite export is decanted into full-bodied, humorous prose." -- Independent on Sunday

"…fiery, variegated, and full of delicious moments" -- Literary Review

'...the detail is fascinating...very readable...' -- Lea Valley Star, 22 October 2003

Book Description

A personal journey through the highlands and islands exploring the history, personalities and mystery of the water of life. (20030303)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great soujourn 24 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ian Banks has a lovely style and the presentation of the countryside, the politics, the food etc as well as the distilleries is great
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Curate's Egg 30 Dec 2003
Raw Spirit is three-books-in-one. I like single malt whiskies a lot and bought the book in anticipation of reading a well-written, informative and amusing tour of the Scottish distilleries and their products. I was not disappointed; Iain Banks' travels to all of the major (and many of the minor) distilleries are well-described, informative and (to the extent that his views on the whiskies sampled agree entirely with my own) accurate. Unfortunately the distilleries, their whiskies and the beautiful (and beautifully-described) countryside around them take up less than half of the book. The remainder consists of (a) anecdotes concerning Mr. Banks' friends, family, youthful (and often not-so-youthful) pranks, and cars, and (b) rants on the Iraqi war, the current state of British vs U.S. politics and the wisdom of legalising drugs. The former, although largely irrelevant to a book on whisky, are clearly of interest to fans of Mr. Banks and his novels, but would have been better kept for an autobiography. The latter, however, are totally inappropriate in this book. I happen to agree with most of what Mr. Banks says, particularly on the derogation of British sovereignty to U.S. (a.k.a. neo-con) hegemony, but these are complex issues and totally out of place in this book where the superficial "rant-and-rave" treatment they get can only be a distraction. This is a book that started with an excellent idea but was highjacked by a self-indulgent author, a publisher's deadline and current events, leaving only a taste of what it could and should have been.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By jannert
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I know there are many grumbling negative reviews of this book, but I liked it a lot.

I think it's important to read this book with an open mind. The folks who commissioned Iain Banks to write this guide to Scottish single malts were not just interested in him delivering a soberly (!) comparative guide, but also must have wanted his own brand of incisive, accessible, writerly charm to accompany it. I think he's delivered both. This is the Banksian shot at Zen and the Art of Whisky Appreciation. This is a book to be read at leisure, maybe taking notes, maybe not.

While intersposing amusing anecdotes about his foibles, his friends, his love of cars and driving, and a certain degree of political engagement - his research for this book began at the start of the present Iraq war - I think "Banksy" has also managed to provide an extremely reliable guide to the individual flavours of Scottish single malts and to the process of making them.

What comes across is his rather unexpected (if you're familiar with his fiction) kindly and constructive nature. At no point does he disparage any of the malts he's been encouraged to review. Instead, using his writerly gifts for precise, unpretentious description, he gives us a very accurate impression of the way each of them tastes. I can certainly attest that his descriptions of the few single malts I have tasted myself are spot-on. He also makes it very clear what kinds of tastes he prefers (strong!) and leaves the reader to decide which ones to try, without passing unfavourable judgement - although he is very quick to praise his favourites. In fact, my very favourite single malt is one which he does not favour himself, but he has certainly described it perfectly. This makes me trust his judgement.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Contains about 10% alocohol 3 Feb 2004
Other reviewers have pointed out that this is a real mish-mash of a book and I would go along with that. If you are buying this book with a view to having a ready-made guide to whisky-making in Scotland, don't. On this level it fails miserably and the reader would be far better buying one of the many cheaper pocket guides to whisky that are on the market. Banks describes the whisky making process in about half a dozen pages in the middle of an unrelated chapter, while the details of his whisky tasting sessions are strewn at irregular intervals throughout the book. The lack of an index makes it difficult to locate his views on a particular whisky. All in all, the parts of this book dealing with whisky amount to about 30 - 40 pages mixed inside a 350 page book.
So what else do you get for your money? Well, you get a little autobiographical detail about Banks. As a fan of (most) of his other books I found this quite interesting. Others not familiar with Banks himself may not find this information as entertaining.
You also get various random anecdotes about Banks' friends which sometimes verge on the self-indulgent. There are several tales that I'm sure are of interest to them and them alone.
You also get Banks' commentary on contemporary events. Chiefly, you get his views on the war in Iraq. Briefly, Banks was against it and becomes extremely repetitive when referring to it.
You also get a LOT of incredibly dull stuff about cars, but that is nothing compared to the mind-numbing tedium that accompanies his seemingly endless details about Scottish roads. This book has page after page of utterly pointless information about just about every road north of Glasgow and in these sections is, quite frankly, unreadable.
In summary - as a book about whisky it is less than adequate, as an autobiography it is patchy, as social commentary it is repetitive, as a trevelogue it is dull, dull, dull.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it, followed it....had a great tme
Iain Banks was a fantastic Author may he rest in peace. Mind he probably would want peace would he:-) This is a very well written, humorous and informative book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by R. Raithby
3.0 out of 5 stars near miss
Iain Banks is a Scot who loves Scotland and shares that in many of his books, especially this one. So far, so good. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Neil Carmichael
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Bill Bryson on acid
If I had to sum up the late, great Iain Banks in one word it would be this; unpredictable. I came to this book shortly after the author sadly passed away, so knew it would remain... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Blazerweigh
5.0 out of 5 stars shahi
Loved this book and Bank's description of the different whiskies. It was like hanging with a friend and a good bottle of whisky.
Published 3 months ago by Shahi Hussain Sikdher
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality
I mistakenly bought this thinking it was 'In Search of the Perfect Dream' - but, typical of Iain Banks it's a surprise a page. Well written in typical Banks style.
Published 5 months ago by Margaret Ette
2.0 out of 5 stars An 'ok' blend
Ok for a novice to whisky but quite smug and self-aggrandising for my tastes.
Definitely 40% abv, chill filtered and heavy on the caramel.
Published 5 months ago by J Sammon
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book about life when you're well off in Scotland
I think we now know why this author sadly died young. He lived life to the full and enjoyed it. If you live in London this should be required reading. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Wildfire
5.0 out of 5 stars RAW Spirit in search for the perfect dram.
Bought for an uncle so don't know how it has gone down, not as smoothly as a drop of the hard stuff. I will probably re-order for other whisky mad friends.
Published 7 months ago by margaretdavy
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainment
Informative but above all entertaining book, exploring the world of malt whisky, Scottish roads and cars, but the much-missed and lamented Iain Banks. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars good spirit
very good read, money well spent, and learnt new things about whiskey, a very good guide to any drinker .
Published 8 months ago by Z. Vari
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