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From Biergartens to Boozegartens: Growing Your Own Cocktails With The Drunken Botanist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Do you know the story of the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees? Yes, there’s that one. But there’s also a more literal one that involves creation, specifically, how the world’s greatest alcoholic beverages came to be. It seems they are all created from plants–that’s according to an expert on the matter. Trust her, she’s a botanist, and a drunken one at that. In The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks, Amy Stewart aka The Drunken Botanist, explores the botanical base of booze. The book includes bits of history, biology, chemistry for over 150 plants and 50 recipes to accompany them.

“Hey Mum, it’s me. I know it’s late but please don’t hang up--I’m only allowed one phone call.”

Along with flowers and trees, birds and bees are actually discussed within the book–apparently lorikeets are known to get tipsy from fermented eucalyptus. Sometimes this lands them behind bars–bird rescue organizations often place the lorikeets into the equivalent of a drunk tank for fine feathered friends until they are sobered up and released. Much to the chagrin of barflies everywhere, bees earn the distinction of being the insect that is most important to the history of alcohol. And then there is the birds and the bees in the explanation of the sex life of corn. Note: this part may contain content that is too mature for the ears of baby corn.

The book’s inspiration came to Stewart following a bar fight–okay, maybe not so dramatic–more of a verbal kerfuffle with a friend and fellow plant person who didn’t fancy gin. Wondering how someone with an interest in botany didn’t appreciate a beverage chock full of plants, she attempted to convince him otherwise. While they were at a liquor store, Stewart realized: “There wasn’t a bottle in the store that we couldn’t assign a genus and species to. Bourbon? Zea mays, an overgrown grass. Absinthe? Artemisia absinthium, a much-misunderstood Mediterranean herb…Suddenly we weren’t in a liquor store anymore. We were in a fantastical greenhouse, the world’s most exotic botanical garden, the sort of strange and overgrown conservatory we only encounter in our dreams.”

If booze is plant based, then why not grow your own? Of course, not everyone will have the space or devotion to grow fields of barley or corn; instead, you can start smaller with a garden filled with cocktail accoutrements.  Here are some suggestions for starting:

Since I already have lots of the plants needed to make them, I’ve decided to begin with the Mixologist Simple Syrup Collection. The lavender simple syrup can be used for many things, including this bubbly treat:

The Drunken Botanist’s Lavender-Elderflower Champagne Cocktail

Although this cocktail requires varieties from your garden, this is not your garden variety cocktail. As you might expect, this drink is made from ingredients with a botanical base. To make this cocktail, you will need:

Champagne or other sparkling wine:

1 ounce St-Germain:

Fresh sprigs of lavender:

1 ounce herbal simple syrup (in this case, infused with lavender)

Pour the simple syrup and St-Germain in a Champagne flute and top with Champagne. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender.

Bottoms up!

Image Credits: TJ Lin, author, Simo ubuntu, Joe Calhoun, author, tinyfroglet, author.

Layla Eplett About the Author: Layla Eplett writes about the anthropology of food. She has a Masters in Social Anthropology of Development from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and loves getting a taste of all kinds of culture--gastronomic, traditional, and sometimes accidentally, bacterial. Find her at Fare Trade. Follow on Twitter @LaylaEplett.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Kevbonham 3:04 pm 10/29/2013

    At the end of the week, I’m moving into an apartment that actually has green space for a garden… definitely going to give this a try.

    Is it easy to grow elderberries? I love those things.

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  2. 2. L_Eplett 12:23 pm 10/30/2013

    Really love them, too, Kevin. I’ve never tried to grow them but if you’re successful and get them to produce berries–make some jam. And then share it with your fellow Food Matters crew

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