BOOK REVIEW: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great DrinksThe Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book is about how plants are used in the making of alcoholic beverages from vegetative matter that serves as the primary ingredient in fermentation to obscure herbs and berries used to lend subtle flavoring. The book covers a lot of ground, being at once a guide to the chemistry of fermentation and distillation, a mixologist’s recipe book, and a guide to growing the plants used to make booze.

I will admit, if I weren’t such a neophyte to both subjects at hand – botany and alcoholic beverages – I probably wouldn’t have rated this book so highly. For me, almost every page offered new fun facts about alcoholic beverages, some of which I’ve consumed and many of which I never have. So if you have a high degree of understanding about one or both of these subjects, you may not find the book as intensely satisfying. Also, at times the book comes off a bit pretentiously – hardcore drunks probably don’t want to be shackled with so many rules for optimal alcoholic consumption (e.g. what type of glass they should drink a given drink from, etc.), but hardcore drunks are probably not a huge readership demographic. (It should also be noted that the reader gets some knowledge to fight pretentiousness as well, such as against gin drinkers who say they would never drink vodka when, in fact, they are drinking juniper berry-flavored vodka.)

The book consists of three parts. The first part describes fermentation and distillation and then offers two sub-parts dealing with the most everyday bases for alcoholic drinks (e.g. corn, grapes, potato, and wheat) as well as some of the more obscure and unusual objects of fermentation, respectively.

The second part delves into the plants that are added for flavoring or the like, and these are organized by: 1.) herbs and spices, 2.) flowers, 3.) trees, 4.) fruit, and 5.) nuts and seeds.

The final part gives some guidance on how some of these plants can be grown. It should be noted that this section is a bit thinner because a lot of information on growing the plants is covered in side-bars in the earlier sections and also this isn’t the book’s main thrust. The third part is similarly divided up between herbs, flowers, trees, berries & vines, and fruits & vegetables.

There are quite a few graphics, mostly in the form of line drawings, throughout the book – some are purely aesthetic and others are informative (e.g. drawings of plants.) There is also a recommended reading section that proposes further books to expand one’s understanding at the nexus of booze and plants. The book presents a lot of material in text boxes that set the information aside. These boxes include recipes, but also insights into how to best grow these plants with particularly emphasis given to how the process is optimized for those growing for beverage production (e.g. sometimes the optimal variety isn’t the most common variety.)

I enjoyed this book. It was readable, full of fun bits of information, and written in a light-hearted style. If you’re looking for a book on plants and alcoholic beverages, this is a good starting point. It doesn’t get too deep in the weeds but yet offers some obscure but amusing factoids.

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DAILY PHOTO: Flowers of Meghalaya

 

Taken in April of 2017 in Meghalaya

 

Baby Pineapple

 

Heart’s Ease

 

 

 


DAILY PHOTO: Strange Tree on a Hilltop

Taken on April 27, 2017 near Longwa in Nagaland

 

I’m not sure / can’t remember whether this was on the Indian or Myanmar side of the border.

DAILY PHOTO: The Taj, Lalbagh Republic Day Flower Show

Taken on January 22, 2017 at Lal Bagh Botanical Garden in Bangalore

Taken on January 22, 2017 at Lalbagh Botanical Garden in Bangalore

 

 

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POEM: Endless Fields of Green Zombies

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Trees talk.

Share sugar.

Stretch skyward.

Grow,

Compete,

Breath,

&

Eat.

Memorize weather.

Flock together.

Host birds of a feather.

Participate in pacts.

Never overreact.

House strangers.

Call out dangers.

Take things slow.

Never over grow.

But there are fields–

endless fields–

of green zombies.

Who cannot talk.

Who do not share.

Whose competitors

&

allies

are executed.

So they can fulfill a purpose

not their own.

DAILY PHOTO: Banana Flower

Taken in December of 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Taken in December of 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

The other night, I ate banana flower for the first time–that I know of / remember–in two separate dishes. My wife and I were eating at the Oh! Calcutta on St. Mark’s Road in Bangalore, and we sampled banana flower croquettes as part of an assorted starter platter, and then I tasted some of my wife’s entrée, which was “dry cooked banana flower with coconut slivers.” The former was tasty, but so spicy that my undiscerning palate was incapable of learning anything about the flavor of this flower. The latter, much milder, dish tasted like a tasty take on mashed potatoes (again, to my unrefined palate.)

The picture above was taken in Malaysia, but banana flowers are present everywhere bananas grow (throughout much of tropics.)

Deceptively, the flower looks like it could be a deadly weapon–with its pointy, conical bloom.

DAILY PHOTO: Orange as Cammoflague

IMG_0292The background in this photo is the Hindu temple that is on the site of Tipu Sultan’s Palace, but which predates the Sultan’s Indo-Islamic teak structure. There is a simple but beautiful garden in between the palace and the temple that displays various flowering plants.