Thursday, April 18, 2013

Non-Fiction Pick: The Drunken Botanist: the Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks
by Amy Stewart
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
400 pages with index and recipes

Brilliant, brainy, and filled to the brim with fun-filled facts, this is one non-fiction book that is a delight to read!

Having read, reviewed, loved and blogged about Amy Stewart's two earlier books Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities and Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the newest little gem by Stewart. I'm glad I did!

Stewart shares the backstory to her interest in plants and which plants in particular are used to make spirits. She was at a convention in Portland, Oregon, and talking to another garden writer from Tucson. They searched  the local market for ingredients to make a delicious cocktail from a bottle of gin. As they perused the shelves, the thought came to her! There wasn't one bottle of spirits that didn't begin as a plant. Stewart was fascinated with the possibility of researching the world of drinking and spirits. She cautions the reader that, "The history of drinking is riddled with legends, distortions, half-truths, and outright lies." What could be more fun that digging through a history rife with stories, fables, and myths?

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with fermentation and distillation and includes plants from agave--from which mezcal and tequila are made--to wheat--from which whiskey and bourbon are made. Section two details herbs, flowers, nuts and seeds and part three includes mixes and garnishes that finish off a drink.

Did you know that common spices found in gin are juniper berry, fennel, ginger, bay leaf and lavender? Or that pink peppercorns are used to flavor such drinks as bitters, beer, and gin? Did you know that the banana tree is actually not a tree at all? It's a huge perennial herb. Since it has no woody tissue, it's not botanically speaking a tree. Did you know that 90% of bourbon produced yearly comes from the state of Kentucky? These little known facts and hundreds more make The Drunken Botanist a real treasure trove to read and digest (pun intended).

Highly, highly recommended for anyone with an interest in plants, botany, and/or spirits. This book is a nice gift for wannabe bartenders, mixologists, brewers and wine growers. Stewart warns would-be at home distillers that plants can be toxic and that they can kill. Some plants have "deadly lookalikes," so beware before you try to distill your own vodka or gin.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

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