The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks opens with a tale of author Amy Stewart on a quest for ingredients to make a gin cocktail. She does this not so much because she's thirsty, but to disprove the negative perceptions a fellow garden writer had about the spirit.
A few drinks mixed with fresh jalapeño, cilantro and cherry tomatoes later, she had a gin convert and a book idea. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the edible horticulture handbook. Instead of lecturing, Stewart presents herself as a savvy drinking buddy.
The book is smaller than a textbook in size and weight — small enough, really, to carry with you into bars and pubs if needed. Organized into three parts that trace a cocktail in several makes, The Drunken Botanist begins with common plants found in familiar wines, beers and spirits.
This is proceeded by plants used to enhance alcohol — and then those that serve as garnishes or ingredients in mixers. In between, there are easy recipes and breakdowns of familiar types of spirits. It should be noted, that there is less advice on growing plants as there is tips on how to use them.
Stewart also writes about gardening on a blog called Garden Rant — which is no less straightforward and conversational. It's a tricky premise, this style of marrying scientific knowledge with everyday tips. When done wrong, as is often the case, it can read like a gimmick designed by special interest groups. In both her book and her blog, Stewart has a knack for distilling enough background and trivia to keep you interested without shutting down your focus.
Using market ingredients in cocktails is not anything that bartenders — and their customers — in Los Angeles don't already know and love. It's part of the larger farm-to-table sensibility associated with California cuisine. And while a lot of emphasis has been placed on sourcing local ingredients for food and sometimes the drinks that accompany it, there is less exploration on garden-to-glass cocktails. It's a shame, given the wealth of natural resources at hand. Whereas planting for food can require a heavy commitment, planting for cockails takes significantly less space.
We've highlighted three plants from the book that you might want to consider planting in your backyard, outdoor terrace — or in a plantbox on your window sill. These are herbs that are a little less familiar in cocktails than, say, mint and basil. Turn the page…
Best known as: Natural sleep enhancer.
Ways to drink: You can find chamomile in a liqueur; it's also an essential ingredient in vermouth. It might be handy that studies have shown that, as Stewart writes, the flowers calm the stomach, as they have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects. When in a gin cocktail mixed with honey and lemon juice, the result is practically homeopathic.
Best known as: A garnish on your favorite taco.
Ways to drink: Cilantro, also called coriander, can be found in nearly all gins as well as quite a few herbal liqueurs. In fact, you might be drinking in a bit of cilantro without realizing it with it appearing in vermouth, aquavite, absinthe, and pastis. Thanks to its refreshing qualities, cilantro makes for a good summer cocktail like The Kitchn's coconut, ginger, and cilantro rum drink.
Best known as: Most likely syrup, although Americans weren't introduced to elderflowers as a flavor profile in alcohol until 2007 with the introduction of St-Germain, the French-style liqueur made with the flower.
Ways to drink: You may have had St-Germain in your cocktail. Elsewhere, elderflower appears as a wine and in a cordial. Stewart provides a recipe for the latter, which calls for ingredients like sugar, lemons, and oranges. Either as a liqueur or a cordial, she notes elderflower as a flavor profile is a good all-around ingredient, given its balanced floral and honey notes.
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