Brewing up a good story | VailDaily.com

Brewing up a good story

Leigh Bennett Horton
Special to the Daily
Amy Stewart, author of "The Drunken Botanist," speaks at Juniper Restaurant on Thursday on plants and how they're used around the world in popular drinks.
Special to the Daily |

EDWARDS — In a book that is sure to give any gardener or alcohol connoisseur a buzz, New York Times-bestselling author Amy Stewart looks to both common garden plants and obscure Egyptian roots to brew a romping narrative that explores the history of plants creating the world’s most beloved drinks. Locals can take it all in on Thursday when Stewart visits Juniper Restaurant in Edwards to discuss her latest book, “The Drunken Botanist.”

This concoction of a book focuses on the plants behind the drinks popular not only at ladies night, but also in drinks from Asia, Africa and Europe.

“What I’m really interested in is telling stories and writing books,” said Stewart. “I started this book as a writer more than anything else.”

The work is a culmination of her previous books, including “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and other Botanical Atrocities” and “The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms.”

How Stewart got her start

Her former garden in Santa Cruz, Calif., inspired her writing. To her surprise, it contained common plants that could be used to mix drinks.

But plants by themselves are rather boring topics for a book.

“Plants themselves are just sitting around being green,” she said. “They get interesting when humans get involved and think about how to commit a murder with a plant, or make a lot of money, or make a drink.”

Her narrative focuses on unusual blends of plants and is part how-to and part history book. Her research led her to esoteric sources for ancient drinks that she outlines in easy-to-follow recipes.

Her search for unusual blends led her to Europe and to ancient Middle Eastern publications, where she catalogued obscure recipes specific to those locations. Finding regional trends and combinations was much easier than determining global ones.

“It’s impossible to get numbers because so much is made at home,” she said of home brewing. This process is an increasingly popular trend in Colorado, with individual craftsmen celebrating the artistry behind combining different plants to produce drinks like artesian beer.

Herbs in homebrewing

As homebrewer and Denver resident Erin Beck says, homebrewing is appealing because of the freedom it allows the makers—there are no standard settings, so recipes can be tweaked, and ingredients changed.

“It’s also cool to be able to share a batch with your friends. It’s way cooler than just going to the store and buying a six-pack,” she said.

Despite the challenge of sifting through the myriad of varieties of plants that go into making a drink, Stewart was able to determine some overall trends in alcohol consumption.

For example, the largest spirits type is soju, a Korean rice-based alcohol, generally unknown in the United States. Other surprising plants used in this distillation process include sorghum and ginger.

Try inspired drinks

At the first of the Books and Booze series, Juniper Restaurant will serve drinks inspired by those in “The Drunken Botanist” while Stewart describes the plants involved in the making of those drinks, along with stores about her research and travels, which has included various trips to European distilleries and vineyards.

Next week, the second part of the series brings John Holl, author of “The American Craft Beer Cookbook,” to Crazy Mountain in Edwards for appitizers, drinks and discussion.

Leigh Horton is a student at the Colorado School of Mines and an intern at the Bookworm of Edwards.



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