It billed as a search for the perfect dram. However, having bought the book on the basis of this billing, I felt a bit conned.
True, it contained some amusing anecdotes. However, there was page after page about Iain's veritable 'stable' of cars. Also, reams on obscure Scottish roads that I'd never heard of and am never likely to visit. Finally, tedious detail about Iain's friends.
When it came to descriptions of Iain's visits to distilleries and his thoughts on different malts, narrative was brief and uninspiring.
Most of us could have sat with books by Jim Murray, etc and cobbled this together - without a single visit or dram.
So, buy the book if you want to read about driving, cars, drunken boys antics, etc. But don't buy it expecting to learn a lot about whisky.
This book is not meant be a whisky almanac. There are plenty of those whisky reference manuals on the market already, by Jackson, Murray, etc. If you want to learn about whisky, buy some of them. Banks doesnt hold himself up as a connisseur, nor his book as the definitive guide to whisky or distilleries. I have seen a book on the market specifically about visiting distilleries, all of them, and its a proper bore to read continuously. If you had read them before buying, you would have found the sleeve notes describe the contents as a journey round Scotland and that's exactly what Banks gives you. There's plenty about his travelling companions, the scenery, his modes of transport and his lodgings but that is what a travel guide generally contains. Agreed, it does help if you know the geography of Scotland, even better still if know the "obscure Scottish roads" he talks about. You are obviously not familiar and that suits me fine. Banks' fiction is the same, based in Scotland, so works better if you know the area.
Its just an amusing anecdotal, slightly indulgent, meander around Scotland, with a strong whisky flavour to it.
Incidentally, following your tip, I got it half price in Waterstones. Ta very much.
Don't get me wrong. The humour was brilliant in places. Just not enough about malt.
If the book is to be believed, Iain spent a not inconsiderable sum of money buying good malts to sample - in an attempt to identify the ultimate dram. But you don't hear much about them. By contrast, we witters on about certain wines and beers.
I'm afraid that I agree with eelbrook on this one. I picked up the book excited that finally someone had combined two of my passions - travelling and drinking whisky. The dream job?! Absolutely.
However, I was left feeling rather flat by the book. I understood completely from the outset that the book was about travelling Scotland and meeting new people with a common interest in whisky. However, the book fails in one very large area - not enough about whisky. And Iain certainly fails to immerse himself into the culture of those that he meets.
The sort of book I was hoping for would compare with "Round Ireland with Fridge" by Tony Hawks. A great travel book where Tony empathises completely with the people he meets, with real living descriptions of the country. On this is hung the strange idea of lugging a fridge round with you.
Iain has missed out on a golden opportunity to do more than talk petrol and politics. I'm afraid that the majority of whisky enthusiasts I have spoken to have felt terribly let-down by one of the books they were all looking forward to hugely.
Great for car lovers, probably great for Banks lovers, certainly not ideal for whisky lovers. Tony Hawks... are you listening?!?
This really was an opportunity wasted.
And I'd forgotten the ranting about the Iraq war. I agree 100% with Iain Banks that we were wrong to invade Iraq. But what on earth did international politics have to do with the search for a perfect dram?
Perhaps, a new distillery in Baghdad or Basra?
There are fans of Whisky out there who want to hear something different besides size of stills or points scored in tastings.
There are many other factors and influences out there, please try and be a little open minded.
The chemistry of distillation doesn't vary a great deal so lets hear,listen,understand some different angles and opinions.
If people know Jim or Micheal will mark up Islay malts why are you so surprised when they put in writing.
Thanks for your reply...
I don't see it as a question of being closed minded, nor do I sit a home at night an spend hours obsessing about whisky. Far from it, I enjoy the experience of the drink and want to help as many others try it as possible. I do have many other interests as well, which is why I'd hoped the book would be more than a book about whisky.
But to be honest I'm not sure what the book IS about.
I mentioned Around Ireland With Fridge, and lots of people I have spoken to were expecting something of the same with Perfect Dram. An immersion into the culture and gorgeous country in a way maybe only a Scotsman can relate, insights into the way the industry is run, and attitudes of the people he met on his journeys around the country. All we seem to get is an inwardly looking autobiographical account of a very lucky and talented guy advertising various cars and bikes.
I happen to agree with the majority of things Iain said in the book. Scarily enough most of my favourites corresponded very well with Iain (Islay fan in the extreme!). So I'm certainly not ranting about his views, conclusions or even motive. I'm more concerned that the book would have been more aptly entitled "Round Scotland with Motorbikes", "Musings of a Scottish Author", "How I Met All My Old Chums Again" or "Let's Talk About How Much Dope We Smoked and How Often We Fell off Walls".
I like Iain's work, as I said I agree with the majority of his conclusions but I'm afraid that this doesn't do what it says on the tin.
PS Stutter Rap aside, Tony Hawks' best work was doing the promotional video for Laphroaig in which he interviews Mr I Henderson who is one of the nicest gentlemen I've ever met. I look forward to meeting him again now he's moved to Edradour.
My apologies if my comments came across as a personal attack, it wasn't my intention.
I do believe though that there is far too much importance put on facts and figures in the whisky industry, which I have been part of in the UK and abroad for a number of years. How many times will the same information appear in yet another whisky book. We should applaud Mr. Banks on at least trying another approach.
Perhaps I am focusing more on the idea behind Raw Sprit than the content.
What I need to do now is get my hands on Around Ireland with Fridge and I will be in a better position to comment.
(Loads of Ian/Iain's in the industry - far too confusing!)
Thanks for your reply. Don't worry, I wasn't taking offence - just struggling with ideas that are sometimes hard to express in words that mean different things to different people. Sometimes my posts tend to be stream of consciousness stuff!!
I think the important thing is that we are both talking about it and that it will go someway to elevating whisky out of the old-boys network. I know several friends who are constantly amazed that someone in their 20s enjoys whisky.
Anything that changes this perception is great with me - how do the French / Spanish / Italians do it? Their sales to the youth market seem to go from strength to strength!
As a marketing person (boo hiss!) with a love of whisky I'm contemplating a move to Scotland and into the industry. Any ideas as to where jobs are posted, or who to talk to would be gratefully appreciated.
Anyway, I sure as hell ain't interested particularly in the 'science' of whisky making.
For me, it's all about the drinking! I also do find some of the unique characters in the industry fascinating.
However, Iain spent hardly any time talking about the taste of the many whiskies that he bought on route. Nor about those that he met in distilleries.
Rather, he wittered on about- (a) his expensive 'stable' of cars and bikes; (b) obscure Scottish roads; (c) wine; (d) his various mates; (e) a third-rate Scottish football team; (f) midges; and (g) international politics. Oh, and drugs of course!
We'll have to agree to disagree I guess.
Banks jumps from distillery to distillery in a haphazard manner discussing everything except the distilleries, the products and more importantly the people he meets along the way.
What we are left with is a bunch of anecdotes from times with his friends which are long-winded and frankly unamusing. I am all for bringing life experiences into books etc but try and stick to the subject.
I feel a bit conned but more mad that there was an excellent chance for a famous writer to really explore whisky and distilleries and instead he went on a personal crusade to bore the reader.
Perhaps we are being a little unfair however, perhaps the editors tore the heart out of this book and removed all of the stories of Ian and distillery managers out on the razzle etc. I doubt it however.
Give me the budget and time that Ian had and I'll come up with something ten times better (and written better).
I too would have loved to have had Iain's time, money and opportunities. What I produced at the end might not have been as well written, but would have certainly have conveyed more to the reader about distilleries, their characters and their whiskies.
I picked up the book a few weeks ago. Was rather excited having found it. Started reading it and the first few chapters were quite funny and interesting. But after 2/3s, nothing more had happened. The book didn't go somewhere. Iain was all over the place with an incoherent style of writing, using more brackets than commas and leaving me disappointed.
I never finished the book.
His brief description on how whisky is made is a classic though. As is his view to the Angel's Share. No one beats him with those.
Learning about the variety of malts, distilleries and styles of whisky was very entertaining in the relaxed and anecdotal prose that Iain has.
The chat about cars,politics,friends or whatever else he decided to go about only added flavour to a very enjoyable book. Much like how finishing a fine malt in a sherry cask adds to the final expression.
If you all want to read dour, dull books filled with dry facts and no stories then fine, but when one does come along filled with added spice, embrace it.
It's a pity Iain has passed away, he was a great talent.
Raw Spirit is a great book for whisky fans anywhere.
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