Escrito por: Jake Burger
Iain Banks, who has died at the age of 59, will be remembered as one of Scotland's most prolific authors of the modern era, publishing 25 much-lauded works of fiction along his 29-year career. He will perhaps be less well remembered for his single work of non fiction: 2003's Raw Spirit - In Search of the Perfect Dram.
Unequal parts travelogue, biography, political rant, and perhaps least of all, guide to Scotland's native spirit, one reviewer on Amazon rather cruelly described it as containing "about 10% alcohol". A complete guide to the distilleries of Scotland this book is not.
The premise of the book, and which he characteristically admits unashamedly, is that he received a phone call from his agent saying that "another publisher had come up with the idea of me going round distilleries in a black cab in search of the perfect malt", and was I interested?"
Who could turn down such an offer? No self-respecting Scotsman that's for sure, though he did rather questionably kibosh the taxi and elected to make a great deal of the tour in a selection of his own vehicles: a Land Rover, Jaguar, Porsche, BMW M5 and his motorcycle, not to mention planes, ferries and trains. At times he gets rather distracted by these vehicles, though less so than by The Gulf War, a subject which looms in the background of this book and casts a metaphorical shadow over the whole volume. He also goes off on frequent tangents about his barely - make that rarely - concealled hatred for George 'Dubya' Bush and then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"I find myself looking at Blair and hating his self-righteous, Bush-whipped ass the way I only ever hated Thatcher before," he writes. "I look at Dubya and just see a sad fuck with scared eyes; a grotesquely under-qualified-for-practically-anything daddy's boy who's had to be greased into every squalid position he's ever held in his miserable existence who might finally be starting to wake up to the idea that if the most powerful nation on Earth - like, ever, dude - can put somebody like him in power, all may not be well with the world. Dubya is that worst of all things, at least at this level of power and influence; a cast-iron, 100 per cent, complete and total loser who's somehow lucked out and made it to the very top"
As I said, there is a lot in this book which isn't about whisky, but where his book triumphs, and the reason why you should read it if you haven't already, is that it instills in the reader a true affection for Scotch whisky and the land that bore it. Ultimately, you get the sense that this trip was definitely worth it for him even if we are occasionally the bored passenger stuck in the back seat of his car.
His eloquent tasting notes perhaps lack the flair of Jim Murray's but you get the overriding sense that he is very much enjoying this trip, loving each and every drop of the spirit that he samples in the various visitors' centres that dot the modern Scottish landscape. You begin to wish you could join him for a glass, to listen to him get sidetracked from his dram by his love for the Land Rover Defender 110 County Station Wagon Td5. You start to feel jealous of his adventure, you start to plan your own, and you probably should. As he puts it in the closing lines: "Your own perfect dram may still be out there. The search is half the fun."
On 3 April 2013, Banks announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the gallbladder and was unlikely to live beyond a year. The announcement of his illness was made with typical good humour: "Officially very poorly", he asked his long-term partner Adele to do him the honour of "becoming my widow".
Banks died on 9th of June 2013.
Photography by: Tim Duncan