The Drunken Botanist examines the wide variety of plants that have been distilled and fermented throughout the ages. It will appeal to gardeners, drinkers, and anyone who likes food history.
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks starts with the plants we’re all familiar with – wheat and barley for beer, grapes for wine, agave for tequila, and so forth. I learned agave has had a complicated history with people and that it makes more than just tequila. It is also such a moneymaker that large monoculture plantations of agave have grown up in the tequila-making states in Mexico. Genetic diversity is limited and the typical problems associated with large-scale monocultures, such as excessive pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide use to prevent devastating disease and pest infestations.
The next section looks at less well-known plants and plants that you might not suspect of being used for alcoholic beverages. Did you know there is a beer banana? According to author Amy Stewart, in Uganda and Rwanda, beer bananas are grown and processed into a popular banana beer. The banana beer is easier to transport to market – no bruising or spoiling.
The flavorings in liquors and liqueurs that give them their distinctive tastes come from around the world. Allspice (which almost went extinct in the 19th century), aloe vera, and angelica are just a few of the herbs and spices that contribute to the complexity of many drinks. Flowers come next, with chamomile, elderflower, and hops to start off with. The sap, the bark, nuts and seeds, and of course the fruit of trees also make appearances as flavorings.
The final section goes through herbs, flowers, and other plant parts that are used to mix with alcoholic beverages to create the tasty cocktails we love. This section has more detail on how to grow these additions and how to use them in the drinks. Start with rum, add some strawberries and mint from the garden, a little lime juice and simple syrup, and serve over ice. Yum.
It’s a fun book and it kept me turning the pages. It’s not a recipe book. It has only a little more than sixty recipes for cocktails and a few other things. It’s chock full of information, history, folklore, gardening tips, and ideas for entertaining. The Drunken Botanist is available on Amazon.
For those who want to try their hand at growing their own drinks, the Territorial Seed Company is selling Drunken Botanist themed plant collections online.