2013; 400 pages. Full Title : The Drunken Botanist – The Plants That The World’s Greatest Drinks. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Non-Fiction; Reference, Science, Chemistry, Booze, Botany. Laurels : NY Times Bestseller, Amazon Best Book of the Month (March 2013); Winner, International Association of Culinary Professionals Judge’s Award (2014). Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s make our own booze! I don’t care if it’s beer, wine, or whatever kind of hard liquor that floats your boat. We can customize it to make it a truly unique microbrew.
Of course, we will have to learn how to make it. Grab some grapes or something and ferment them, or distill them, or whatever it takes create to a concoction that'll give you a buzz when you drink it.
Hmm. I wonder where you go to find out how to produce your own hooch. Hey, I bet any book that’s titled “The Drunken Botanist” will give us some great tips.
What’s To Like...
I liked the way Amy Stewart structured The Drunken Botanist. The sections address topics in descending order of importance, and also kinda chronological. You make the alcohol first, throw in additives to suit to taste, then adorn your creation with garnishes or mixers. A brief outline:
Part A : Apertif (1%)
Part B : About The Recipes (2%)
Tips about choosing glasses, ice, tonic water, etc.
Part 1 : Fermentation & Distillation (2%)
“The Classics” (from Agave to Wheat)
“Strange Brews” (from Bananas to Tamarind)
Part 2 : Additives (31%)
Herbs & Spices, Flowers, Trees, Fruit, Nuts & Seeds
Part 3 : Mixers and Garnishes (65%)
Herbs, Flowers, Trees, Berries & Vines, Fruits & Vegetables
Part C : Digestif
There’s a drawing included for each plant being spotlighted, and the pictures are all smoothly expandable. Some of the subsections included are: “Bugs in Booze” (a guide to the critters that might infest those plants); “Grow Your Own” (tips on how to best ‘start from scratch’ when making ingredients yourself), and a slew of drink recipes that will appeal to the bartender in you.
Amy Stewart also warns the reader of poisonous lookalike plants, should you be tempted to “pick your own”, and cautions you about crazy ideas such as importing some of the cited substances that happen to be illegal here. She also sprinkles all sorts of historical trivia throughout the book, such as George Washington being the dominant force in the rye whiskey making market in early America, wine making that started as early as 6000 years ago, and the fascinating story of quinine. A nice added feature is: if you want to look up something, there is a huge Index section at the back of the e-book. Seriously. It goes from 72% to 100% Kindle.
Several of the anecdotal topics resonated with me personally. Caramel coloring is mentioned as an additive in beer and soda. My company supplied one of the reactants in this process for many years. Pennsylvania Dutch country, which is where I grew up, is cited for loving its sarsaparilla. The amygdalin cited in the apricots section is something I was once hired to develop a process for. And I laughed at the mention of Theobroma; it played a key role in a book I read recently (reviewed here), and I thought at the time it was a figment of Kage Baker’s imagination.
Around the world, it seems, there is not a tree or shrub or delicate wildflower that has not been harvested, brewed, and bottled. Every advance in botanical exploration or horticultural science brought with it a corresponding uptick in the quality of our spirituous liquors. Drunken botanists? Given the role they play in creating the world’s great drinks, it’s a wonder there are any sober botanists at all. (loc. 103)
THE PERFECT PASTS
1 plane ticket to Paris
1 summer afternoon
1 sidewalk café
Upon arrival in Paris, locate a café that appears to be frequented by actual Parisians. Secure a seat and order un pastis, s’il vous plaît. If it is served neat with a jug of cold water, you are expected to mix it yourself, drizzling the water in until you have achieved a satisfactory ratio – usually 3 to 5 parts water to 1 part pastis. (loc. 2709)
The e-book version of The Drunken Botanist sells for $9.15 at Amazon. There are two other books in this series, Wicked Plants and Wicked Bugs, which go for $9.99 each. Both of them await me on my Kindle. Amy Stewart has written a number of other e-books, including a 3-volume “Kopp Sisters” mystery series. Those sell for $9.99-$14.99 apiece.
Next time you pull a piece of silk from between your teeth while you’re eating a fresh ear of corn, remember that you’ve just spat out a fallopian tube. (loc. 827 )
The quibbles are minor. There are a couple links to pages, but since the e-book isn’t formatted to display page numbers, you find yourself at an unknown location when you use the link.
Also, reading the “mixers and garnishes” sections gets a little bit tedious in spots, when they all start to sound the same. I think Amy Stewart realized that though, and covers a lot of the most humdrum subsections via mercifully concise data tables.
But let's not dwell on the minor minuses. The Drunken Botanist is a fascinating read, and I’m looking forward to exploring the other two books in the series. We’ll close this review with a quick trivia question to tickle your fancy:
What is the oldest domesticated living organism? Answer in the comments section.
8 Stars. Add 1 star if you love partaking of mixed drinks and/or beer. My alcoholic taste buds confine themselves to wine, which means a lot of the sections in The Drunken Botanist weren’t personally relevant.