According to Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, just about everything in your cocktail (except the water) was once a plant. "I'm telling the story behind the plants in what you drink," she says.
Stewart, who has also written books on Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants, visits Pittsburgh as the inaugural guest of the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. She'll help lead a daytime tour of the Oakdale garden, and on Aug. 7 will lecture (you'll want to go, she's a dynamic speaker) Downtown on the history of plants, people and booze.
Although this is her first visit to Pittsburgh, she's already influenced the city's cocktail culture. Next time you're in a cocktail hotspot, look around: You'll likely spot The Drunken Botanist. "It's an amazing feeling when I meet a working bartender who says the book gave them an idea or made them feel differently about their job," Stewart says.
It's not just bartenders who can benefit. "Even something as seemingly simply as growing a specific kind of mint can make a big difference in a drink," she says. For example, a variety called mojito mint is perfect for, well, you got it.
Easy-to-grow flowers and herbs can have a big impact, too. "Clean, bright, floral flavors don't come out of a bottle in the same way as they do from a plant," she says. Lemon verbena adds citrus notes without the acidity, and scented geranium, the popular garden plant, can add aromatic dazzle.
And Stewart has a tip for infusion-lovers: "When you're extracting a plant in alcohol, you're extracting all of the flavors. It's not as refined a process as would happen at a distillery," she says. So it's best, she says, to drink your infusions shortly after making them.
One of-the-moment infusion is a garden Bloody Mary. Muddle tomato, basil, peppers and other savory summer vegetables into some vodka. Strain and serve over ice.