What makes a good cocktail? And I’m not just talking about the ingredients like gin, bitters, or vermouth. I mean how were those individual ingredients created? Where did they come from? What’s their history? If you’ve ever wondered the same, you should check out the book, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks, by Amy Stewart.
“Around the world, it seems, there is not a tree or shrub or delicate wildflower that has not been harvested, brewed, and bottled. Every advance in 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 great drinks, it’s a wonder there are any sober botanists at all.”
Stewart originally got the book idea while at a convention for garden writers. She was surprised to find that one of her friends claimed that he didn’t like gin. She then went on a quest to convince him that gin should be every botanist’s liquor of choice due to its fascinating botanical origin. Once at the liquor store to pick up the ingredients for the gin cocktail, she realized that “every drink starts with a plant.”
Stewart breaks down the botanical origins of all our favorite libations: wine, beer, spirits, and even a few mixers. Though the book is formatted like a textbook or encyclopedia with each plant getting its own section, it’s easy to quickly read it cover to cover, from Agave to Zanzibar cloves. She provides intriguing historical facts, brewing information, advice (and warnings!) on growing the splendid plants yourself, drink recipes and brand recommendations.
A few interesting facts from the book:
- The agave plant used to make Tequila is not a cactus but a member of the asparagus family.
- It isn’t the wormwood that made France’s 19th centurey bohemian set “crazy” when drinking Absinthe, but rather, it was that is was traditionally bottled at 70 – 80 % ABV – making it twice alcoholic as gin or vodka.
- Ever wonder why créme de menthe or créme de cassis doesn’t have cream in it? The term créme actually indicates a higher sugar content and is meant to signify an especially sweet liqueur.
- Cork comes from the Portuguese Oak Q. Suber. These trees live for more than two hundred years, and by the time they are 40 years old, they have produced enough of their spongy bark to harvest four thousand corks! This is because the bark stripping process doesn’t hurt the tree and it continues to regrow the precious bark year after year.
This is only a taste of the delightful tidbits you’ll find in The Drunken Botanist. Check it out for yourself – you never know what you might learn!