Browsing the shelves of a liquor store, Amy Stewart sees plants in every bottle: Gin is distilled from grains and infused with herbs, spices, citrus, and flowers; whiskey is also distilled from grains (and sometimes corn), and aged in wooden barrels; bitters are infused with roots and seeds; and garnishes range from cured olives and pickled onions, to citrus peels and preserved cherries.
The Drunken Botanist is divided into three parts, each with it's own eclectic title. Part I is titled, "We explore the twin alchemical processes of fermentation and distillation, from which wine, beer, and spirits issue forth"; Part II "We then suffuse our creations with a wondrous assortment of nature's bounty"; and Part III, "At last we venture into the garden, where we encounter a seasonal array of botanical mixers and garnishes to be introduced to the cocktail in its final stage of preparation.
From cover to cover, plants ranging from sugar cane and sorghum, to cacao and lavender are introduced to readers with one or more pages describing their history, how they grow and where or when they were combined or turned into spirits. This book is a garden guide first. It just so happens that all the plants featured are inextricably tied to booze.
Throughout the book are sidebars, primers, legends, and field guides. There's a primer on gin, orange liqueurs, the difference between ales and lagers, and sake nomenclature. Stewart explains why quinine glow under ultraviolet light, explains why some booze contains bugs, and gives tips to "grow your own." The book is full of tidbits and lore...though she admits in the book's introduction that cocktail history is rife with urban legends and false facts.
Each part of The Drunken Botanist is peppered with recipes for classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, Ramos gin fizz, and rusty nail, plus variations of drinks like gin & tonic including jalapeno peppers, a bloody Mary with celery bitters and tonic water, and a negroni with grapefruit juice. There are recipes for various cocktail mixers as well, like homemade marschino cherries, nocino, grenadine, prickly pear syrup, and more. And there are some tips and tricks to making a good cocktail great, such as "spanking" your herbs before adding them to a drink. If this book doesn't make you a better gardener or cocktail maker, at least you'll be a more informed one.
Amy Stewart will be visiting Seattle next week, promoting The Drunken Botanist. She'll be at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Thursday, March 28, at 7p.m. And on Friday March 29, Village Books in Bellingham will be hosting a Drunken Botanist talk accompanied by cocktail-friendly plants from Christianson's Nursery at 7 p.m.