An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: Peppered with fascinating facts and well-chosen anecdotes, Amy Stewart’s brisk tour of the origin of spirits acquaints the curious cocktail fan with every conceivable ingredient. Starting with the … see full wiki
When you think about it, alcohol is all about the plant. Whether it's the base distilled spirit or the flavorings that go into it, someone had to come up with the idea to do something with what was growing around them. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart is a detailed, informative, and humorous look at liquor from the perspective of a botanist. I came away with a whole lot more appreciation behind what's on the shelf at a liquor store, as well as a number of drinks I wouldn't mind trying.
Contents: Aperitif About The Recipes Part 1 - We Explore The Twin Alchemical Processes Of Fermentation And Distillation, From Which Wine, Beer, And Spirits Issue Forth: Proceeding in an Orderly Fashion through the Alphabet - The Classics, from Agave to Wheat; Then Moving onto a Sampling of More Obscure Sources of Alcohol from around the World - Strange Brews Part 2 - We Then Suffuse Our Creations With A Wondrous Assortment Of Nature's Bounty: Herbs & Spices; Flowers; Trees; Fruit; Nuts & Seeds Part 3 - At Last We Venture Into The Garden, Where We Encounter A Seasonal Array Of Botanical Mixers And Garnishes To Be Introduced To The Cocktail In Its Final Stage Of Preparation: Stored in a Similar Fashion - Herbs, Flowers, Trees, Berries & Vines, Fruits & Vegetables, including Recipes and Sufficient Horticultural Instruction Digestif Some Final Business: Recommended Reading; Acknowledgments; Index
For something that could be very long and dry, Stewart makes The Drunken Botanist both entertaining and informative. The basics of things like beer, vodka, and scotch are covered both from a "how is it made" perspective and from the historical angle. The small details and stories surrounding some of the plants are fascinating, and you have to wonder how it was possible to consider of these combinations a good idea at the time. Even things like oak, used to create the barrels that store and age various alcohols, have a huge effect on the taste and quality of the resulting spirits. A European oak is preferred by winemakers due to the tannins it releases during the aging process, while the makers of bourbon prefer species like the American white oak because of the sweeter flavor molecules it contains. All oaks are definitely not created equal...
Because each fruit, herb, tree, etc. has its own two to four page section, you don't have to sit down and read the whole thing at one time. On the other hand, it's hard not to keep saying "just one more plant.." If you're interested in the world of alcohol, The Drunken Botanist should be on your reading list.