The Drink/Drank/Drunk Issue: 'The Drunken Botanist' Reviewed

Amy Stewart instructs how to grow a bartender's garden

The Drink/Drank/Drunk Issue: 'The Drunken Botanist' Reviewed

“This book came out of a conversation with a fellow plant researcher, when he told me he didn’t care for gin,” Amy Stewart told me during her recent visit to Austin to promote her latest best seller, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks (Ten Speed Press, $19.95).

Stewart recalled her inner monologue: “‘How could he possibly not like gin, when it is one of the most complex beverages out there? Do you know how many plant families are involved in its making? I think someone should write a book about it.’ ... Well, that someone turned out to be me!”

The Drunken Botanist is the result of three years of research, travel, and experimentation (there are recipes in the book, of course), written in the most approachable, engaging style imaginable, yet it is full of interesting facts and packs more knowledge that any book I have read in recent memory. Even when opened at random, I find neatly organized tidbits of information, mind-blowing revelations, and anecdotal stories that kept me smiling throughout. Stewart’s enthusiasm for the subject is downright contagious, her dedication to debunking even the oldest myths about alcohol admirable. And after having the pleasure of meeting her, I can clearly hear her voice with every page I turn.

The book is organized in three parts. Part one is dedicated to plants that are sources for alcohol, from well-known ingredients like agave, barley, corn, potato, and wheat, to really obscure plants used the world over, from South America to India, Africa and Asia. (A ceremonial fermentation made from Araucaria seeds? Wow.) Part two is dedicated to the flavorings: herbs and spices that add distinct flavors to the basic spirits. Part three is where Stewart shares most of the recipes and gives a primer for adventurous gardeners to grow their own bartender’s garden. Granted, she gardens in California where everything grows, but the former Longhorn understands our climate and gives plenty of useful advice. This book should be required reading for everyone with a love for cocktails and a love for plants, because the two are fascinatingly and joyously intertwined.

Read more stories behind the bar and deep in the jigger at The Austin Chronicle's Drink Drank Drunk issue hit stands Wednesday, July 3.

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