I put this on my to-read list (again it’s over 300 books!) after reading her Wicked Plants. I chose this as my reentry into non-fiction reading partly because how much I enjoyed Wicked Plants. I will say I enjoyed this book about the fruits, woods, spices, and herbs that make up our alcoholic beverages. However, I did not enjoy it as much a Wicked Plants. It’s not the author’s fault I think but rather my inability to drink any more. I was left wanting to know what a liquor made from violets taste like over crushed ice mixed with seltzer on a hot day in France. How a Pimm’s Cup is refreshing when ruling India while trying act like I’m in Britain. How beer made with green hops taste different from the beer I know. But alas I was left with the images and descriptions only if I want to keep taking my medications. However I do have a son and husband who drink so who knows I might get to watch too. If not trust me some character somewhere in my writings will know that violet liquor and LOVE it.
I’ve had my brush with ancient drinks before I went off alcohol. My Egyptology teacher here in Kenosha brought in a beer brewed to the ancient recipe. Egyptians LOVED onions. So their beer was flavored with onions and dill. Also they didn’t strain the mash from their beer. It’s a good source of Vitamin C and Protein. So they liked to chew their beer. It was the consistency of a really runny oatmeal that tasted of dilled onions. Now as a cheese it would be good but as a beer, well let’s just say I prefer a pilsner. However the Egyptian wish of “May you always have beer, bread, and onions.” Did take on a whole new meaning after my taste. I think they had that all in one stein.
From the book I did learn the history of many spices I enjoy. I also learned how devastating the European spice industry was to the world in the 1800s. If the Dutch spicers were losing a hold they’d destroy all the crops even trees to keep the rivals from getting them. It did serve that purpose but also decimated the local population. I was also surprised at how many of our every day culinary spices were smuggled out of their homes to be planted and farmed to become widely available just like coffee was.
Finally how many of our delicious liquors come from man tinkering around with poisons, crops not edible and so forth. That most potato vodkas are made from small ugly potatoes. Oh and that most vodkas aren’t made from potatoes anyway. That the worm is a mark of cheap badly tasting tequila that needed a gimmick to sell. That sake is best served chilled unless cheap then heat it up to make it palatable. That cold water or chipped ice does wonders chemically to make many liquors taste better. Really it releases more flavors that’s why Absinthe and gin martini’s are best served very cold.
In the end I’d recommend this to several types of people. If you are a gardener read it to find fun and useful ways to use your produce in cocktails for your guests. If you are a drinker read it to learn the hows and history of your favorites and maybe try her take on your favorite. If you are a chemist then enjoy her explanation of each and how it makes the beverage we know. Finally if you are like me and just curious about the world around you and want to know more about things you encounter in everyday life, read it you’ll never look at the bottles behind a bar the same again.