Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanast conveniently on sale right now for $9 on Amazon
I don’t say this about many books, but this one is hands down one of the best things I have ever read. Right off the bat, let’s get this out of the way: I recommend it. If you stopped reading right now and clicked that link and bought the book and didn’t read a single word of the rest of this post, I wouldn’t even be mad. I get it.
Since, apparently, you are going to continue to read then let me tell you why I love this book so much. Partly, I think there might be a hint of nostalgia to it. When I first started bartending about 2 years ago now, this was the first book I got that really drew me into the world of liquor. Just opening it takes me back to those long shifts behind the bar at a movie theater on a Tuesday at noon… yeah, I had some free time. But inside is probably the most beneficial cocktail book that I’ve ever read.
Physically, it is a hard cover book, the cover in dark green with gold and light green accents. It doesn’t look like a cocktail book, it looks like a story book. It looks like something I would open up and read to my kids, desperately hoping that today they will go to sleep quickly (I’m assuming. I don’t actually have kids.) Inside, it is similarly whimsical. The book is divided into three segments: 1. sources of alcohol; 2. herbs, spices, flowers, nuts, etc. commonly used to infuse alcohol and then 3. herbs, flowers, trees, berries, fruits used to create cocktails in the final stages. Each segment is divided and organized alphabetically by what is inside. The very first you are greeted with is Agave, where Amy Stewart swiftly settles almost all questions the average public has about tequila. Every few pages, the topic changes, further increasing my feeling that I am reading a story book about alcohol.
Punctuated throughout the book are excerpts clarifying some historical element or tidbit for example “How does Poire Williams, a Pear brandy made in France, get the fully grown pear into their bottle?” Along side these are recipes for some classic and some modern cocktails. Make no mistake, this is not a cocktail book. All together, the recipes number less than 50, a miserable count by any other alcohol-centric book standard. Included among them however are some of the worlds most venerated cocktails and their history along with some I had never heard of: The Vavilov Affair, No.1 Sake cocktail, Dr.Struwe’s Suze and Soda, Caribou, kir (my personal obsession) and Ciao Bella to name a few. The knowledge gained from this book has unexpectedly garnered me more than one job offer, one of which was for knowing an obscure root and what it was used for. That aside, this book is a joy to read in itself. I have re-read it completely at least 4 times and find it exciting every single time.
If for nothing else, I think Amy Stewards book is so incredible because it arouses in me a passion that no other cocktail book does. It does not tell me what drinks to make, merely shows me the possibilities. It does not tell me what’s popular right now, it tells me what humanity has created over time. At the risk of sounding grandiose, every time I read this book, I don’t think of what is, but of what has been and what could be. I want other people to feel this way about alcohol too. I want the rest of the world to take up our bottles and glasses and demand something better to fill them with. Loving and understanding alcohol as we know it is the first step to doing that.