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Iain Banks is well-known in the United Kingdom as a fiction and science
fiction author. He is also, as it turns out, quite the scotch whiskey
aficionado. That's not such a surprise for a Scot, but Banks was quite
surprised when the publisher called his agent and asked if he'd be
interested in motoring around Scotland, visiting distilleries and buying
scotch with money from a very reasonable expense account. The result is
Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram.
The technology involved in making scotch has changed relatively little over the centuries. In fact, most of the improvements to the process involve using more modern materials when constructing the still, but there's a lot to be said for the benefits of refining a process through years of experience and observation. While Banks doesn't spend a lot of time on the process, he does bring in enough detail about the nature of the fuel used to fire the still, the nature of the water and surroundings of the distillery, and the source of the aging barrels (usually oak from the U.S.), that he gets his point across.
Raw Spirit is also part travelogue. Banks did, after all, drive around Scotland in a variety of classic and distinctive cars, so there's a fair amount of storytelling involving his past travels throughout Scotland on the main thoroughfares and what he calls great wee roads. He also introduces a number of his friends, all of whom were incredulous at his opportunity and enthusiastic about helping with his research.
Finally, there are a number of diatribes against the British government over their involvement in the Iraq invasion. They are clearly marked and can be bypassed easily if you wish, but any American readers who don't fully understand the depth of anti-war passion that exists in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, in the U.S. would do well to read them.
Overall, Raw Spirit is a fine book that I enjoyed reading. While it isn't currently available in the U.S., anyone with an interest in scotch whiskey should order a copy from amazon.co.uk. You'll have to wait a week for the book to arrive, but it's a small price to pay for such an enjoyable read.