Cool Green Review: The Drunken Botanist

Amy Stewart offers a science writer's field guide to happy hour. Photo: Matt Miller/TNC

Amy Stewart offers a science writer’s field guide to happy hour. Photo: Matt Miller/TNC

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. By Amy Stewart. Algonquin Books, 2013. 400 pages.

Review by Matt Miller, senior science writer

Think of this as the biodiversity of booze: author Amy Stewart provides the stories of the plants behind every glass of wine, beer and bourbon you drink.

“What I hope to do here is to give you just a taste of the dazzlingly rich, complex, and delicious lives of the plants that go into all those bottles behind the bar,” she writes.

There’s plenty of biology here, as well as history, drink recipes and even gardening tips. Stewart spends time on all the usual suspects (hops and rye and grapes) but also delves into more obscure botanical delights, too (yusu cocktails, anyone?).

She includes everything from garnishes that grow in your backyard to exotic alcoholic delights found only in the world’s most remote corners. You’ll learn the taxonomy of apple spirits and the history of juniper use in gin. You’ll discover the truth of those worms in the bottle of tequila, and why chewed-corn drinks probably won’t ignite the next microbrew craze.

Stewart notes that “the history of drinking is riddled with legends, distortions, half-truths and outright lies.” She does an admirable job of tracking down the real stories behind plants and drinks, making this a science writer’s field guide to happy hour.

This is a fun little book crammed full of trivia that will amaze your friends and colleagues at your next cocktail party. Or you can just simply enjoy the stories by the fire, fine drink in hand.


(And remember, as author Amy Stewart advocates as well, please always drink responsibly).

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Posted In: Book Review

Matt Miller is a senior science writer for the Conservancy. He writes features and blogs about the conservation research being conducted by the Conservancy’s 550 scientists. Matt previously worked for nearly 11 years as director of communications for the Conservancy’s Idaho program. He has served on the national board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and has published widely on conservation, nature and outdoor sports. He has held two Coda fellowships, assisting conservation programs in Colombia and Micronesia. An avid naturalist and outdoorsman, Matt has traveled the world in search of wildlife and stories.

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