The Drunken Botanist:
The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

by Amy Stewart

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013. ISBN 978-1-616-20046-6.
Reviewed by Martha Meacham
Posted on 04/19/2013

Nonfiction: Food/Kitchen/Cooking; Nonfiction: History/Current Events

"Every great drink starts with a plant," writes Amy Stewart in The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks. As refreshing as a tangy lemon cooler on a sweltering Texas day, this book is a rich compendium of concoctions and brews. Not only does Stewart write about processes of fermenting and distilling, but she also suggests how to mix the drinks after the bottle arrives at the bar. Around the globe, from fermented raisins to barley wine, the history of humans is intertwined with the use of intoxicating plants and herbs. What's not to love about this tasty blend of history and horticulture?

This book will please novices and experts alike as Stewart discusses the plants from agave to wheat that are used to make alcohol. Her humor, word play, and one-liners like "Even bad apples make great cider," make the pages palatable.

However, this is not the sort of book to read from cover to cover in one sitting. This book requires savoring and sampling. I leisurely strolled through each chapter, fondly remembering hard apple cider as a child or imagining a fine apple jack.

One drawback is that there are tons of tips and tidbits that could potentially sidetrack the reader. Stewart gives pointers on how to grow your own: apples to oranges. My mind wandered and wondered what could I grow in my garden? I found myself making lists of tonic waters and mixers to hunt down to try.

My head is still spinning from all that I learned from this book. Did you know before sugarcane and rum took over in Barbados that they made an alcoholic drink from sweet potatoes? Finally I know where the "sloe" comes from in a Sloe Gin Fizz! I even learned that a hometown favorite, Tito's Handmade Vodka in Austin, Texas, is made from corn.

Hands down, the section on herbal blends captivated my attention the most. What a sensory experience is conjured up reading about ginger drinks! A fine ginger mixer adds a bite to any happy hour. Alcohol has a long tradition as the base for medicinal herbal blends and tinctures. You will find out how to infuse vodka with herbs, spices and fruits.

Detailed and well-researched, this book should be required reading for bartenders and even botanists. Mere aficionados of distilled plant spirits should find something useful as well. It would be a handy reference for the home bar. Your hard-bound copy will get a workout flipping through the pages to find that perfect recipe. For the DIY fan, there are plenty of projects that you might undertake,

Cheers, it's five o'clock somewhere!

Read an excerpt from this book.

Amy Stewart is a prolific, successful writer who lives in Eureka, California. She is described as a spirited public speaker who travels nationwide. Since she first published in 2001, she has earned many accolades and awards. Find out more on this best-selling author on her website and the book website.

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