581: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

by Gerard


581.632: Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2013. 355 pp. ISBN 978-1-61620-046-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 580: Plants
  • 581: Specific topics in the natural history of plants
  • 581.6: Miscellaneous nontaxonomic kinds of plants
  • 581.63: Beneficial plants
  • 581.632: Edible plants

In almost everything you drink, a plant is involved—especially the tasty, alcoholic kinds of drinks. Gin? Comes from juniper and sometimes contains bay leaves. Midas Touch beer? Saffron is involved, as well as Muscat and barley. Kahlua gets some of its flavor from vanilla flowers. Plants dominate the alcohol-making process. Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist lists every plant, flower, tree, herb, spice, fruit, and nut involved in almost any liquor imaginable.

Stewart explores the world of drinking from a purely botanical perspective. She provides details on the breeding history of certain plants, how their biochemistry provides flavor and structure to the end product, and its history in the use of drink-making. Also included are several classic drink recipes. The pure amount of information in here is staggering. This is another of those “nugget” reads—check in, grab a few choice bits, and then check out. It gets a little overwhelming when you try to consume it all in one sitting. To be fair, Stewart does keep the writing light and understandable, and her regular digressions into plant care or biographical history break up the fear of reading entry after entry. I enjoyed this book for the fact that she explored very little-known liqueurs, including Lillet, Fernet, and several other obscure bottling. Even a liquor expert will still find a few things they didn’t know before. A thick but still informative book.