|Scroll down for a chance to score a free copy|
The Drunken Botanist is the most useful and entertaining drinks book of the year and one of the most engaging of the last several years.
I've been to liquor stores with distillers, bartenders, and go-go boys but never a botanist. Until I manage that, this little green tome can serve as a crash course in what's actually in those thousands of bottles. Sure, cocktail recipes — good ones, too — are scattered throughout the book but those are not the reason I've been heaping plaudits on it. Rather, it's the unrelenting thoroughness of Stewart's writing that's so impressive. The book is an exploration of plants (and a few bugs and fungi) that contribute flavors, aromas, colors, tactile sensations, and base materials for fermentation and distillation.
Stewart frames the scope in her introduction:
Around the world, it seems, there's not a tree or shrub or delicate wildflower that has not been harvested, brewed, and bottled. Every advance and 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 greatest drinks, it's a wonder there are any sober botanists at all.
The Drunken Botanist covers much of the same ground Brad Thomas Parsons reached for in his Bitters, but where Parsons stumbled, Stewart soars. Her graceful, easy style belies the sheer amount of facts and data packed into nearly 400 pages. Line drawings accompany many of the entries. Each plant entry starts with the common name immediately followed by its Linnean taxonomic designation and the family to which it belongs and then a page or more on its use in alcoholic drinks.
Take myrrh, for instance. Commiphora myrrha to botanists, it's in the torchwood family, more properly known as Burseraceae. Wait. WAIT. Do not let your eyes glaze over. Myrrh was one of the gifts of the biblical wise men. If Jesus was down with myrrh, you can give it a minute. Stewart writes:
Myrrh is an ugly little tree: scrawny, covered in thorns, and nearly bereft of leaves. It grows in the poor, shallow soils of Somalia and Ethiopia, where it is a gloomy gray figure in a barren landscape. If it weren't for the rich and fragrant resin that drips from the trunk, no one would give it a second look.
Boozehounds, brewers, distillers, oenologists, sommeliers, bitters-makers, bartenders — even tea freaks and soda makers — will find this a timeless reference work for understanding not only what's in the spirits we drink, but perhaps ways to craft new ones. Her engaging prose and attention to detail all but assures that Stewart's latest book will remain a useful tool even a century from now for those who make drinks at home or work.
Amy Stewart (2013)
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks
400 pages (hardback)
Goes well with:
- My review of C. Anne Wilson's Water of Life, an exhaustive examination of the origins and progress of spiritous distillation.
- A look at Brad Thomas Parsons' Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas. A qualified success, but still worth buying.
- Volodimir Pavliuchuk's 2008 recipe book Cordial Waters: A Compleat Guide to Ardent Spirits of the World.
- Do It to Julia! A look at pink cloves and gin as Winston Smith's habitual (I'll refrain from calling it his "favorite") tipple in Orwell's 1984.
How About That Free Copy?
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, the publisher of The Drunken Botanist, has offered to send a free copy of the book to five Whiskey Forge readers. There are only two rules: (1) winners must have a US or Canadian mailing address and (2) readers must leave a recipe in the comments below to qualify.
A recipe? What? Hell, yes. I want to read about your favorite alcoholic drink that relies on plants to give it some distinguishing character — a cocktail, a homemade cordial or bitters recipe, your grandmother's amaro or your college roommate's homemade absinthe. Whatever. But it's got to have booze, beer, or wine (nothing against tea, but tea hardly makes botanists drunk) and it's got to demonstrate some distinctive plant characteristic. What that means is up to you: I want to see what you've got.
Next Friday (April 26th), I'll post the names of five randomly chosen winners here. Each will have until Friday, May 3rd to email me a shipping address.
NOTE: The giveaway is now closed and the winners (plus their recipes) are announced here. The comments, however, are still open. Please feel free to chime in with your own recipes. [edit 27 April 2013]