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

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

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

A New York Times Bestseller
Sake began with a grain of rice. Scotch emerged from barley, tequila from agave, rum from sugarcane, bourbon from corn. Thirsty yet?  In The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart explores the dizzying array of herbs, flowers, trees, fruits, and fungi that humans have, through ingenuity, inspiration, and sheer desperation, contrived to transform into alcohol over the centuries.

Of all the extraordinary and obscure plants that have been fermented and distilled, a fe

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2 comments

  1. Amelia Gremelspacher
    65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    “The botanical world produces alcohol in abundance.”, March 19, 2013
    By 
    Amelia Gremelspacher
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    Plants soak up CO2 and sunlight and convert it to sugar and exhale oxygen. When sugar is combined with yeast, alcohol is born. So alcohol is very a very close cousin to the substances that make life possible. Yeast is plentiful in the air, which I didnt know, so many staple foods will turn to alcohol with time. I am not a drinker, but I am a gardener, and I am nosey. So I found this encyclodedic book to be delightful reading.

    Stewart does a thorough job of describing the the various plants that form the basis of the alcoholic drinks in the world. She adds a few myth busters such as the fact that a worm in mescal actually just means a marketing tool for cheap mescal and is not remotely hallucinogenic. Good cider is made from apples so sour they are called spitters. Gin is actually flavored vodka. These are not spoilers, there are many such facts. In addition, she feeds my garden soul with the history of how these plants were found, mutated, grown, etc. And she points out which plants have very toxic relatives which look remarkably like the good cultivers so these you should not pick in the wild.

    She addresses the taste of each type of drink, how they taste, and how to make a cocktail with each type. And for us clueless types, she describes the “top shelf” specimens and what makes them premium. SHe also explicates the appropriate mixers and herb additives and how these came into popular use. The drink recipes seem intriguing as well. I especially enjoyed the nuggets of social history that accompany the text, for example the extreme creation of the slave trade to harvest the sugar so vital for rum.

    I enjoyed reading this book. It is more a collection of essays or entries than one narrative. As such, it makes perfect reading for those short breaks we all take. I personally got a bit weary with all the different permutations of alcohol and their precursors, but overall found the text to be full of information that I didnt know; much of it is fun to know. As a source book, I would find it excellent. Right now, different variations of familiar drinks and alcohols are particularly popular, so I would especially recommend this book to people who like to experiment with combinations. For the rest of us, we learn something new, always an excellent attribute in a book.

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  2. 28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Grab A Drink. Grab This Book., March 20, 2013
    By 
    mjpcal (Eureka, CA) –

    This review is from: The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks (Hardcover)

    Oh, Amy Stewart, you’ve done it again!! Previously, in Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs, we learned how potentially benign gifts of nature can be our deadly undoing. That made us all much more cautious and caused all sorts of stress and worry. And, how did we cope and calm down? We had a simple and refreshing libation. Now, in The Drunken Botanist, we learn that our basic alcohol over ice with a dash of whatever and a splash of something and a sprig for a picturesque finish is not so simple after all. It’s wrought with geography and history and botany and chemistry and politics and enough complexity to make one wish for simpler days of temperance and Prohibition. Well, that may be taking it too far, but it’s at least enough to cause one to quickly sit down, pour oneself a drink, grab this book, and ponder what to do next!

    It’s always best in arenas of the unknown to start at the beginning and that is exactly what The Drunken Botanist does. To understand and appreciate the book is just like making a cocktail. Part I enumerates the plants that are used to make the basic varieties of alcohol. You quickly learn that there are almost an unlimited number of results of fermentation or distillation. What you get usually is dependent upon plant availability, geography, or tradition. What you do with your basic alcohol (aging, etc.) can then produce the next range of products.

    Moving on to Part II, we now start adding various herbs and spices, flowers, trees, fruit, and nuts and seeds to our “basic” alcohol. This is how we get to that whole range of liqueurs, crèmes, fruit-this and nut-that. I’m particularly intrigued by the origins and history and varieties of gin. I’ve long said that there should be a museum of gin. And do you know anyone else who carries a little picture card in his wallet showing some ten botanicals in gin!

    What is striking at this point is how important the varieties of alcohol and spices have been in the trade and commerce and history of the world.

    Part III finishes the cocktail with the bounty of the garden used, as some would say, a garnish, but more importantly as fresh ingredients in your libation or as an integral part of a well-considered finished product.

    There’s a basic backbone that runs through The Drunken Botanist so that it’s readable for a good knowledge and understanding of the depth and breadth of the subject, but there are also so, so many small sections and sidebars that can be read separately (and at random). There’s more basic knowledge and trivial pleasure here than you could quickly skim through.

    So, taking my gin martini … on ice with dry vermouth and orange bitters … in hand, I’m ready to read on. The only thing that I might ask for is some new liquor that might stand as tall as the redwoods of Amy Stewart’s northwestern California. St. George Spirits has their Botanivore gin with 19 botanicals, Anchor Distilling (San Francisco) has their Junipero gin, and Clear Creek Distillery produces Douglas fir eau-de-vie. Maybe something along the lines of a Sequoia semprevirens liqueur. Hmmm.

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