The Drunken Botanist | Book Review

Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart. Left in the picture: Tomato plant growing in a gin bottle.

If you should judge ANY book by its cover, its this one. Although it doesn’t tell the whole story of what is inside, it tells you enough to figure out if its going to be your main course or if you should give the menu another read. Which one is it for me? I really like the taste of this one, folks.

“The history of drinking is riddled with legends, distortions, half-truths, and outright lies. I didn’t think any field of study could be more prone to myths and misstatements than botany, but that was before I started researching cocktails.” – Amy Stewart

It is a magic moment when you stumble upon a book that you didn’t knew you needed in your life. ‘The Drunken Botanist’ and I had a moment like that in the library. The light version at least. I had my earplugs in, listening to a podcast, while I browsed the botanical section. The keyword ‘drunken’ made me pause as I read the titles of the books, all lined up in front of me. Did I really read that? With the book in my hand I confirmed that my eyes didn’t play a trick on me. A few minutes later I had checked the book and myself out of the library and was headed towards the subway, with the book safely with me in my backpack. As I sat down on the train I opened up the book and started reading.

And missed my station with a margin of 3 stops. The book had sucked me in completely. That light, magic moment at the library had turned into a much grander affair.

Drunken Botanist is a story of the human race’s relationship to alcohol in all its forms, neatly categorized after crops. Each crop gets a thorough wash in a history lesson. Amy Stewart is giving anecdotal and factual stories about the crops and how humans discovered how to turn them into alcohol. The author is very clear on which she has confirmed and which could be myths (or have little to no support in the form of evidence), which is a welcomed approach in these days of unchecked facts and biases that color the printing presses and TV screens of today.

“When primates – and later, early humans – encountered a new tree and bit into its fruit, they never knew what they were going to get. Fortunately, our ancestors figured out that even bad apples make great liquor” – Amy Stewart

The classic ingredients for common drinks gets plenty of space in the book – The main ingredients of vodka, beer, wine, whiskey, rum and so on – But, also the more odd fruits, herbs and vegetables. Everything from bananas to jasmine, from tobacco to saffron. Over 150 in total with informative stories, cultural takes, and how these ingredients traveled the globe and squeezed into bottles, muddled into cocktails and served on ice.

As a bartender I appreciate the new arsenal of knowledge the book let me absorb from it, as a lover of spirits I appreciate the drink recipes sprinkled throughout the book that made me thirsty just reading about them. Have you heard of lavender martini before? I certainly haven’t. Each recipe in the book has an ingredients list and instructions on how to mash them together to make a drink. The classic cocktails gets their fair share of space, but there is plenty of exotic ones to copy even for someone that has worked in the hospitality industry for a long time (like I have).

Two example pages to illustrate the amazing artwork inside the Drunken Botanist.

Some of the booze-ingredients gets a “Grow your own” portion dedicated to it, giving some simple directions in how to approach growing the crop itself: What sort of sunlight it requires, as well as how much water and what kind of heat-range it likes. As an added bonus there’s some general tips and tricks on how to cultivate the plant.

Everything adds up to a fantastic piece of literature that I can warmly recommend to anyone interested in the world of brews. It has something for both consumers, producers, and the curious to digest. One of the best books I’ve read so far this year. ❤

Interested in getting your hands on a copy of the book? If you buy the Drunken Botanist from Amazon via this link, you also support Utopium.blog – Two birds with one stone!

Amy Stewars is also selling signed copies of the book at her web page.

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