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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on 8 March 2013
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.
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This is truly a book with a difference. Looking at various popular drinks and the numerous herbs, flowers, trees, fruits and fungi that are used to make them. A liquid botanical garden. What is more there are dozens of recipes to make yourself!

But... you will not find this book an easy read. It is a lot more than just a collection of recipes. It is a distillation, if you pardon the alcoholic pun, of a tremendous amount of reference material into a reasonably easy-to-read (if you concentrate) format with the recipes acting as a contrast. At times it feels like an information overload and you might need a drink or two to relax after reading it. Maybe that is the idea? Self-produced medication.

The book's design attempts to be friendly and "different" but unfortunately it still feels a little disjointed, psychedelic and unfocused - as if someone has just discovered a desktop publishing program on their computer and they are trying out all the features. It just didn't work, for this reviewer at least, and it seemed to get in the way of the excellent content. An unnecessary distraction. An attempt to be twee and cute and failing. If you can isolate yourself away from the design, perhaps with the aid of a snorter or two, then there is no doubting the quality and depth of the underlying information. It translates into a fascinating, thought provoking read. A lot of "light bulb" moments might occur whilst reading the book when seemingly obvious things are highlighted about everyday botanical elements.

A book of this kind needs a great index. Unfortunately this review copy did not have an index to evaluate, so that might be something you should check out prior to purchase. Certainly, for this reviewer, thanks to his dislike of the design and its perceived user-unfriendliness, a great index would be a possible deal breaker. At least with a good index you can dip in and out and perhaps find your way around the book with less trauma.

In conclusion? A potentially great book let down by a somewhat strange design choice. The attempts to "jazz it up" managed to take away the reader's focus from a great concept and engaging content. A shame to see a possibly five YUM (star) book fall on such a basic thing.
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on 11 November 2013
My husband adores this book which I bought as a birthday gift. He interrupts my reading repeatedly with interesting facts. The only problem is the number of plants he now needs to find room for in our small garden.
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on 21 December 2013
Fascinating research; an interesting premise. What a fund of information and wide spread of detail. I couldn't put it down and sent it to my son who makes his own wine from hedgerow gatherings. As he said it was "right up my street." So we both enjoyed it immensely.
Anyone who has wondered about the makeup of their drink should read this. It covers every plant, flower, tree imaginable all over the world.
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on 7 March 2015
I am absolute fan of this book and author! Highly recommended for all levels of botany study, from very beginners to most advanced readers. Huge amount of interesting well composed facts nicely told to get a very exact grasp of every spirit and plants used make spirits, including cocktail, all more of less famous beverages, alcohols and spirits.
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on 18 May 2013
After Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants, Stewart has gone in a different direction with this. Again, the book itself is lovely, the contents are informative, interesting and sometimes amusing and in this, we also have cocktail recipes....... it's costing me a fortune, hunting down delights such as Creme de Violette so I can make the cocktails, so be warned!
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on 21 February 2014
This is a brilliant fascinating book - I read it from cover to cover a while ago & bought this one for my son's Christmas. It's a great gift for drinkers worldwide - interesting and beautifully produced - a real treasure. Her companion volume 'Wicked Plants' is also worth a read.
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on 27 August 2013
I love this book, dearly. It came at just the right time as I just started to really get into foraging and study plants in depth for use in drinks. Its packed with useful and detailed information on a wide range of plants used with in the world of drinks.

The book covers everything from how yeast produces alcohol, how early civilisations were distilling and brewing beers to how to grow your own "cocktail garden" including plant care information. Everything seems to be covered here and not just plants that are used to flavour drinks, much thought is given to things like oak as used for barrels and its effect on flavour.

A highly informative and well written book recommended for experienced mixologist and beginners / drink enthusiast a like.

One slight problem Amy, some of the cocktail recipes need a tweak. Although they would work essentially, many elitist bartenders will definitely snub the book with recipes that should obviously be stirred and not shaken. I'd happily contribute to a revised edition though.
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2015
I have a copy of "Wicked Plants" and though it could not get any better. Well this book might not be getter but a lot more information that helps with understanding economic history and planning gardens. If I do nothing but lounging on the veranda drinking mint julep watching the weeds grow in my half planted garden, at least this book is really entertaining.

I do not know haw Amy Stewart can pack so many unique detail in such a small book.

I saw a page on Tamarind and finally figured out what I have been drinking for years.
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on 19 March 2015
One of my favourite books so far. Detailed explanation of a wide variety of botanicals, citrus, raw materials etc which define the taste, smell, properties and flavour of all products you can possibly find behind the bar. This book got me very passionate about herbs and botanicals.
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