I have this book to thank for my newfound love of Strega. My liver may not thank me, but I also now have a very long list of liquors that I want (need?) to try. What’s Strega, you ask? It’s an Italian liqueur, named after the witches of Benevento, a town south of Naples (where my great-grandparents are from). According to the book, there are 70 ingredients in Strega, including cinnamon, iris, juniper, mint, citrus, cloves, anise, and myrrh. It’s herbal based, and can be mixed into cocktails, but I like it best on the rocks.
The Drunken Botanist is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. The author admits to being fascinated with the connection between booze and botany – which is something about which I hadn’t thought until I read this book. And now I’m fascinated as well. As Stewart says in the introduction (actually, “Aperitif”):
Around the world, it seems, there is not a tree or shrub or delicate wildflower that has not been harvested, brewed, and bottled. Every advance in botanical exploration or horticultural science brought with it a corresponding uptick in the quality of our spirituous liquors. Drunken botanists? Given the role they play in creating the world’s great drinks, it’s a wonder there are any sober botanists at all.
She then takes us through every tree, plant, shrub, flower, herb, nut, seed, vine, berry, and whatnot that ever ended up in any kind of fermented drink – where it grows, why it’s grown, even (sometimes) the best way to grow it for yourself. A few times I found myself walking around the yard trying to figure out where I could plant gentian or angelica. But, since Stewart tells us which liquors contain which plants, it’s a lot easier to run to the Total Wine (& More) and grab a few bottles.
If you have any interest in cocktails, mixology, good drinks, or gardening (or all of them), then I fully recommend this book. I could go on and on about what I learned (like – I had no idea that gin was just juniper infused vodka), but it’ll be more fun for you to explore and discover. And taste. And then taste some more.