The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is the author who brought us the back-story of how maraschino cherries have been butchered and ended up neon-coloured so we were keen to read this, her sixth book on the natural world, this time focused on the connection between booze and botany.

Definitely aimed at the geeky end of the spectrum, The Drunken Botanist, is an impressively detailed collection of back-stories and explanations about the botanical origins of many of the drinks we take for granted, and well-researched historical investigations that give as full an explanation into some topics than we've ever seen before.

The precise process for making pulque (so graphic you feel you feel even an amateur could emulate it); the evolution of apples and why particular varieties are perfect for cider; why and which varieties of oak are so well suited to aging spirit; why beer bottle glass is brown and how the answer is related to skunks; are you merely spritzing food dye when you spritz orange zest over a drink - all areas covered well by Amy. There's even an intriguing series of asides cataloging the role of insects in fermentation and distilling.

A conversational tone and easy narrative manner is a disarming tactic, one where as soon as you expect a dumbed-down explanation comes the most extraordinary detail. Helpful graphic elements, box-outs and miniature fact-boxes help make sure you never get bogged down in the text but can dip in and out - and you will, again and again.

Want to grow your own? Amy advises on the plant varieties that budding botanical bartenders should focus on. "Every great drink starts with a plant," runs the subtitle of the book. We couldn't agree more, but rarely has this been successfully focused on.

The Drunken Botanist is published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing and will be available from March 19th 2013.

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