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 V.22 No.15 | April 11 - 17, 2013 

Cocktail Culture

The Boozehound in the Garden

The Drunken Botanist explains the herbal origins of your favorite drinks

Author Amy Stewart
Delightful Eye Photography
Author Amy Stewart

If you pick up a copy of The Drunken Botanist expecting a cocktail book featuring plant-based recipes, you're in for a surprise. It’s really a collection of booze, botany and mystery, all presented in the framework of plants, trees, fruits and fungi.

Author Amy Stewart presents The Drunken Botanist in three parts: fermenting and distilling, botany’s role in liquor and botany’s role in cocktails. She includes sidebars describing how insects help create the liquors we drink—a nod to her previous work Wicked Bugs—and answers questions that you may have always wondered about, like “Why are beer bottles brown?”

In a typical cocktail book, you'd turn to the gin section for a Martini recipe. In The Drunken Botanist, however, you turn to the “juniper” section for Martinis. Find a Margarita under “agave,” of course.

If you’ve always wondered what distinguishes vodka from rum, or the role that sugarcane plays in cocktails, this is a fascinating book. As I read it, I found myself saying aloud, “Oh, THAT’S why this brand of gin tastes like pepper!” (it contains grains of paradise) or “NOW I understand why Maker’s Mark bourbon is sweeter than Buffalo Trace!” (winter wheat vs. rye). Stewart is clearly obsessed with this knowledge herself, and she communicates it clearly throughout.

It’s really a collection of booze, botany and mystery, all presented in the framework of plants, trees, fruits and fungi.

For those who are more interested in beer and wine, there’s still a lot to be seen in The Drunken Botanist. The lengthy barley section covers botany, growth and malting—all which eventually lead to a pint of beer. The grapes section is a big one, too, and includes sections on wine, vermouth, brandy, pisco and eau-de-vie.

As I read, I realized that this book wasn’t turning me into a plant geek (as I suspected it might), but really making me more of a booze geek because I was starting to actually understand what goes into my glass. I imagine this book may also attract botanophiles (is that a word?) who want to understand the traditions and science of distilling these plants into intoxicating beverages. Ultimately Stewart does a great job of presenting the two camps as partners: the bartender and the mixologist together with the scientist and the gardener.

The Drunken Botanist

by Amy Stewart
Algonquin Books, hardcover, $19.95
Amy Stewart will be appearing at the ArtBar in Downtown Albuquerque on April 19 for a “sip and sign,” sponsored by Bookworks.

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