Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist

Review by Shellie for The Drunken Botanist – The Plants that Create the World’s Drinks by Amy Stewart

Shellie’s quick take:  A tastefully fun book for anyone interested in knowing the background for the ingredients that go into creating your favorite alcoholic drinks, including chemistry, historical drama, archeology, recipes, and a fun layout with illustrations and intriguing snippets. This is an excellent book for the geeky imbiber and/or gardener.

Shellie’s thoughts:  Definitely not dry, this book has been broken down visually and thematically for clarity, so it’s not like reading a text book. With an easy to digest visual style the book’s contents are divided into three major parts. The first is Distillation and Fermentation where the author alphabetically addresses the plants Agave through Wheat (including an end section called Strange Brews). The second part is Suffusions and it tells about the plant flavors which are added to the basic alcohols mentioned. It’s then broken down into Herbs, Flowers, Spices, Trees, Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds. The third part then covers the plants that are added to the drinks after they are mixed in a glass, using the topics Botanical Mixers and Garnishes.

Happily at the end of many of the sections for the book the author includes recipes for cocktail, syrups, infusions, and garnishes. She embeds short informational snippets on various subjects such as “A Field Guide to Tequila and Mezcal”, “Bugs in Booze”, “What’s the Difference between Ale and Lager”, “Know your Gins”, and more. The book also makes recommendation of what brands of liquors to use, which not to bother with, and other suggestions for creating upscale and finely crafted libations. It also has some gardening advice on growing plants for your own personal garden so that you can add them to your drinks.

I listened to the book in audio first then took a look at it in its hardbound format for further in-depth digging - and I loved both. The audio version was well read from a reader with a pleasant voice and featured a little clink of a glasses to designate the reading of each recipe. I did however feel the need to be able to look at the layout of the book’s organization, so the hardbound version may be little more practical.

This is a completely fun book which I would recommend. If you enjoy tasteful and upscale libations, are interested in how and what you are drinking is made, and would like some historical details and drama around the process in their creation then this will be a book for you. It would also make a wonderful gift for gardeners and drinkers alike. 4.5 stars.


  • Hardback | 400 pages | Algonquin Books | March 19, 2013
  • Audio CD | HighBridge Company |Unabridged | 10.25 hours edition | March 19, 2013

Both of these wonderful (audio and hardbound) books were loaned from our local library.

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world. She is the cofounder of the popular blog Garden Rant and is a contributing editor at Fine Gardening magazine. She and her husband live in Eureka, California, where they own an antiquarian bookstore called Eureka Books.  http://www.amystewart.com/

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:  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 few are dangerous, some are downright bizarre, and one is as ancient as dinosaurs—but each represents a unique cultural contribution to our global drinking traditions and our history.

This fascinating concoction of biology, chemistry, history, etymology, and mixology—with more than fifty drink recipes and growing tips for gardeners—will make you the most popular guest at any cocktail party.

2 comments:

Suzanne said...

Great review! This book sounds like a lot of fun! I love to read the origin of "stuff", and will be putting this on the TBR list!

Shellie Nunn said...

Thank you Suzanne -
It was one of those reviews that practically wrote itself since I enjoyed the book so much.

I hope you love the it as much as I did. It was such a blast for me.

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