If you’ve ever wondered what wormwood is, where juniper comes from, why whisky makers use oak or which country has a drink made from the monkey puzzle tree (yes indeed) then you absolutely must get your hands on The Drunken Botanist by botanist Amy Stewart. I haven’t found a food and drinks book as enjoyable or as interesting as this since I discovered the Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit (which is not, I admit, strictly a drinks book, but the principles of flavour apply nonetheless). Stewart’s chatty, irreverent style makes light work of what could easily become a dense thicket of facts – whether you want to get geeky about the history and production of drinks, or simply learn a few strange facts to impress your friends down the pub (gorillas keep their hearts healthy by feasting on grains of paradise, which is also a botanical in gins including Bombay Sapphire) then this is a book for you. The first section tackles the raw materials of booze (apples, barley, potatoes, sugarcane), while the second looks at botanical flavourings including, flowers, herbs and spices. In the third and final section, Stewart broadens out to look at all the other plant life you might find in a drink from fruit juices and vegetables to coffee and coconuts. As well as social history, science and horticulture, The Drunken Botanist is also stuffed with cocktail recipes, tips on growing plants and quite a few bug-related facts too (a topic that’s another of Stewart’s specialities). I have no doubt it’s going to be an indispensable new addition to my drinks library.
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart (£14.99, Timber Press)