An encyclopedic tour of over 150 plants, flowers, trees, and fruits that compose and flavor the wide variety of alcoholic beverages around the world. Through fermentation or distillation, we create drinks from rice, barley, conifer shrubs, and molasses, and we flavor, mix, and garnish them with an even wider range of plants, from hops to juniper, chamomile, and bison grass. In addition to the historical tales and the chemistry of fermentation, Stewart also includes over 50 (mostly simple) drink recipes and growing tips for gardeners.

The Drunken Botanist is either a surprisingly fun and interesting reference book or a poorly structured cultural history of plants. Expect the former A-Z format, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the fascinating stories inserted throughout the long list of (often obscure) plants. Enjoy the tales of President Nixon’s accidental overindulgence in mao-tai while in China, ergot poisoning as a potential cause of the Salem witch trials, and the 30-year legal battle over the naming of Angostura bitters.

Even though the “chemistry” of fermentation and distillation is only surface-level, there are many great science facts throughout, including the unusual proclivity of hops to grow in a clockwise direction while 90% of climbing plants prefer counterclockwise, genetic differences that account for taste in cilantro and juniper, the tonic water alkaloid quinine as a anti-malarial, and the huge number of genes in apples (twice that of humans).

Stewart’s love of horticulture is evident in her relatively simple drink recipes that focus on pure ingredients, tips for growing fresh herbs and spices, and reasonably-sized cocktails. Highly recommended for gardeners, and also as a general reference book for anyone who enjoys a trying new, unique, and sophisticated beverages!

“If we were being honest, we would admit that what a liquor store sells is, chemically speaking, little more than the litter boxes of millions of domesticated yeast organisms, wrapped up in pretty bottles with fancy price tags.”