Book Review: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart
Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks was one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year. This fascinating volume covers the many plants that come together to make alcoholic beverages of all kinds, from a wide variety of perspectives including botany, agriculture, history, culture, food and beverage law, medicinal properties of plants, and culinary arts. In part I of the book, Stewart begins with the major crops that we ferment to make alcohol, including barley, wheat, grapes, agave, etc. She also covers a number of more obscure (and often ancient) sources of alcohol, such as banana, parsnip, and my new favorite tree, the monkey puzzle. Part II focuses on the abundance of herbs, spices, flowers, trees, fruits, nuts, and seeds used to flavor alcohol, from the familiar (ie. hops, citrus, cacao) to the whattheheckisthat? (ie. tonka bean, mauby, quandong). The final section of the book focuses on the mixologist’s garden, providing tips and tricks for growing herbs, fruits, veg, and other plants that are great for mixing with booze. The entire book is laced with recipes for cocktails, syrups, and infusions.
For me, the best part about reading this book was the great sense of curiosity and longing to experiment with cocktails that it imparted. I am mainly a beer drinker and occasionally a wine drinker, but my experience with liquor based drinks is mainly limited to the sketchy frat-house punches I drank back in college. Despite now having a grown-up palate, I’ve been hesitant to venture into cocktails mainly because there are so many different ingredients that I am unfamiliar with. My cocktail-swilling BFF has dragged me to many trendy cocktail bars, but I am always instantly paralyzed by the menu. What the hell is creme de cassis? Will I like this mezcal-based drink? Should I spend my grad-student stipend on something I can’t pronounce? Now that the Drunken Botanist has clued me in on many cocktail ingredients, I’m feeling much more adventurous. If you would like to expand your mixology knowledge or just want a really fascinating read on the wide world of plants, flavor, and alcohol, you should definitely pick up this book.