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Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram Hardcover – 6 Nov 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Century; First Edition edition (6 Nov. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844131955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844131952
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. (2003-03-03)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Kindle Edition
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 his only published work of non-fiction, and all the more interesting for that.

Iain was a novelist, not a technical writer. His tools were character and incident, not
production charts and spreadsheets. The idea of writing a guide to malt whiskies was just the jumping-off point for a idiosyncratic look at the search for perfection, the thing that drives human beings on, even though we know, paradoxically, that the things we make and build will never achieve it. It is seeing how close we can get that makes our lives worth living.

This is a book about the journey, not the destination. And what a journey it was! Face it, a book about a guy taking the 'bus to various Glagow off-licences in search of bargain booze was never likely to enthrall the reader. This is more like Bill Bryson on acid.

Iain lived life to the full and it shows in this work - Raw Spirit indeed! Forget the negative reviews. If you enjoyed Bank's novels, don't miss this unique memoir of a life less ordinary.

RIP Iain. You will be sadly missed.
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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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Format: Hardcover
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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