Passed out on the flora: Meet the 'Drunken Botanist' at Books and Books

Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart's recipe for a classic margarita includes three parts agave tequilana, one part citrus aurantifolia and one part beta vulgaris mixed with citrus aurantium. That's how the author labels tequila, lime juice and the flavors in orange liqueurs in her latest book, "The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Best Drinks."

She's not a botanist, but she writes about booze from the perspective of one. Her book is a glossary of the flora used in the making of spirits, beer and wine.

On Friday night at Books and Books in Coral Gables, Stewart will explain the history and uses of those plants with the savantlike knowledge of a longtime gardening writer. Meanwhile, the store's bar will serve the plant-based drink Stewart created for the occasion.

What did you pick for your Miami cocktail and why?


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Miami has to be a rum drink. The problem is … I can't just make a mojito. So it has Lillet Blanc, white rum, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and orange marmalade and mint.

What do you think of drinks such as rum and Cokes?

In fact, I think fancy-cocktail menus around the country have gotten to be a bit much. Ordering a simple drink with just a couple ingredients is fine, but make it a good one. Every drink is a botanical drink. That's kind of the point of the book.

Why did you get into spirits and cocktails? Why are they important?

They tell an interesting story about us, of course. The European herbal liqueurs and aperitifs started out as medicine. Then, pharmacists … added a little sugar to make it palatable. And then, you have kings and queens drinking brandy.

These drinks are deep-rooted. When you go around the world, you can find people making the same drinks their grandparents made, and their ancestors made. There is nowhere in the world that people did not find a way to make alcohol from the plants around them.

So did botany come first or was it boozemaking?

Let's take a plant like cilantro. The leaves of the plant have one particular flavor, but the seeds, harvested and dried, have a different flavor. The volatile, aromatic molecules evaporate. So I think knowing a little bit about the plant helps you know how it's going to be in the bottle.

Do gardeners drink a lot?

Well, gardeners are interested, of course. And, I think, gardeners are interested in a way beyond, "What am I going to plant in my back yard?"

Amy Stewart will read from and sign her book at 8 p.m. Friday, April 12, at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables. Admission is free. Go to BooksAndBooks.com.