Food: Whisky Galore for Author Iain; Iain Banks Is Known for Writing Fiction, but His Latest Book Delves into the Heart of One of Scotland's Oldest Industries, as Jane Kirby, Found Out

The Birmingham Post (England), November 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Food: Whisky Galore for Author Iain; Iain Banks Is Known for Writing Fiction, but His Latest Book Delves into the Heart of One of Scotland's Oldest Industries, as Jane Kirby, Found Out


Byline: Iain Banks

Iain Banks has a guttural laugh and a way of telling anecdotes that makes you think maybe he's had one too many.

Which wouldn't be surprising, considering his latest adventure saw him touring Scotland in search of the perfect dram of whisky.

Raw Spirit is a wildly evocative tale that thunders through Scotland's vast network of distilleries. In it, Banks entertains the reader with dozens of jokes, skits and asides on the art of storytelling.

'The book wasn't even my idea,' he laughs. 'The publishers thought of it and I was thinking, 'Oh it seems too obvious now. What a great idea'. They deny it but I suspect they tried Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh first.'

Banks' book is not a compendium for those who want to learn everything there is to know about whisky. Instead, it offers a personal journey through Scotland, intertwined with nuggets of history and where to hunt out delicious single malts. So what is it Banks loves about whisky?

'It's lots of different drinks,' he says, adopting a serious tone. 'I love single malts in particular. There's such a variety of taste, which comes not straight from the manufacturing process but from all these casks and barrels that come in from overseas.

'It's a strange chemical magic that happens. Just by putting this very clear raw spirit into a wooden barrel -especially one that's had American bourbon or rum in it -tastes wow, profoundly different.'

Banks insists that the way to taste whisky is 'whatever works for you'.

But, he adds: 'Have a good sniff and appreciate the colour, whether it's light or dark and what the legs are like. Take a nip or two of it neat and then add a bit of water to taste.

Never add ice, for the same reason you never chill red wine. If you put ice in it, you're taking most of that taste away. Wine and whisky are best when they come up to room temperature. If you add ice, you're not going to get the same vapours coming off to hit you. But if you're the one buying the bottle, I guess you can do what you damn well please.'

Banks grew up in North Queensferry, Scotland, and lived there until he was nine. About 13 years ago he decided to go back, and his parents moved in next door to Banks and his wife Annie. Now he joins his parents in drinking wee drams -but only on Fridays.

'I almost always have whisky on a Friday,' he explains. 'During the week, I usually have cup of tea with my mum while my wife keeps my dad company over a whisky. But on a Friday I have a whisky.

'Quite often during the week I'm driving and I don't want to drink too much. You have to do these things in moderation. If I get a taste for it then I'm like, 'Whey, more!' Banks is famous for two styles of writing -mainstream fiction and thoroughly bizarre but exciting science fiction which he writes under the name Iain M Banks.

His mainstream novels include The Wasp Factory -a deeply disturbing journey through a boy's childhood -and, more recently, Dead Air which tells of a passionate affair between a radio DJ and a gangster's wife. …

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