The Bookworm Sez
TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
‘Botanist’ good for what ‘ales’ you

May 27th, 2013    Author: Administrator    Filed Under: Opinion

“The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart; c.2013, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; $19.95 / $23.95 Canada 400 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your doctor tells you that you need more vegetables in your diet.

Pay attention to the food groups, she said, and she gave you a chart. Four servings of this, two servings of that, green things and yellow things all over your plate, and you feel like an herbivore.

But if grapes are fruit and fruits are on the diet… does that include wine? Can the Four Basic Food Groups come in a glass? In “The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart, you’ll learn the interesting answer.

It was hot the day you spent working in the garden, and something icy-cold and wet sounded awfully good. So you went inside, scooped some ice and poured yourself an Adult Beverage. But what you might not realize is that the thing you were drinking might have come from the kind of plants you were cultivating; in fact, liquor stores are filled with bottles to which botanical genus and species can be assigned.

Terri Schlichenmeyer


Potatoes, of course, can be a main ingredient in vodka, and corn is found in whiskey, bourbon, beer, and moonshine. Garden herbs are found in rum, vermouth, and amaretto. You can have a nice flute of grapes or strawberries (fermented, of course), or perhaps something made with berries you’ve picked, or fruit from your backyard trees.

Speaking of trees, they also contribute to a bit of imbibing: bananas and birch make beer, junipers make gin, from pine comes wine, and don’t forget that you need oak for aging, and cork for… well, for corking.

If your garden grows with silver bells and cockle shells, you won’t find those in a bottle, but you might find jasmine, violets, and roses in liqueurs. You can find bugs in booze, tobacco (sans nicotine) in certain liqueurs, cactus in some vodkas, even thistle can be found in vermouths and tonics.

With this book, you’ll learn which plant turns up in more alcoholic drinks around the world. You’ll see how a “virtually unknown” liquid became a must-have in every liquor cabinet. You’ll get recipes, including one for the “perfect pastis.” And you’ll learn what you should never, ever use to make your own home brew.

At the end of a long week, you may think there’s nothing better than a cold one to start the weekend. But that was before “The Drunken Botanist.”

With a gardener’s wisdom and the ability to find humor in the human quest for palatable fermented beverages, author Amy Stewart pours on the information in this bubbly book. This is a sober subject; Stewart uses real botanical names and includes plenty of science, but her research is also fun: grab a page and start with your favorite refreshment. That leads to another drink and another and before long, you’ll be absolutely intoxicated with the idea of other plants, different recipes, more cool tidbits.

If you’re a plant-lover, cocktail connoisseur, and if you’ve ever wondered what the heck you’re really drinking, give this book a shot. For sure, “The Drunken Botanist” is good for what ales you.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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