Amy Stewart is, hands down, the coolest plant biology nerd ever. In the centuries-long human quest to brew or distill a stiff drink from whatever ingredients our ancestors could get their hands on, she's authoritative on such topics as why sorghum turns up in more alcoholic beverages than grapes, despite its terrible taste; on the tradition of serving warmed sake, a practical measure to mask the taste of rotgut rice wine; on the impending ecological disasters facing English gin and Mexican tequila makers; why Russian distillers look down their noses at Polish potato vodka; and why you might want to start slicing up organic lemons, limes, and oranges for your cocktail garnishes, unless you like wax in your drink.
The first part of Stewart's book covers the classic eleven alcohol-friendly plants (agave, apples, barley, corn, grapes, potatoes, rice, rye, sorghum, sugarcane, and wheat): the history of their cultivation, explanations of the distilling processes, science nerd anecdotes, cocktail recipes, and the occasional somber reminder about the long term effects that agribusiness is having on our favorite drinks.
Part two, the longest of the three, covers the botanicals in our bottles: herbs, spices, flowers, trees (including the mind-boggling story of the three-decade legal battle over the "Angostura" trademark), fruits, nuts, and seeds. Part three covers mixers and garnishes, most of which can be grown in your home garden, if you've got the space and the right climate: more herbs, flowers, trees, berries, vines, fruits, and vegetables.
Here's your chance to bone up on the history and science behind that martini. Come to think of it, this book is the perfect gift for people who like to throw cocktail parties.