Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on Michael Dietsch, who writes nonfiction about delicious alcoholic beverages. His latest release, with photos by Jennifer Hess, is Shrubs.
Hi, Michael! Thank you for being on our Spotlight blog. Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I’m Michael Dietsch. I write about cocktails and spirits from an apartment in Brooklyn.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times?
My book, Shrubs, is an exploration of a venerable beverage that’s been recently (in the last twelve years) rediscovered by bartenders and drinkers. I provide a history of shrubs along with recipes for making shrubs and using them in both cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
A shrub is an acidulated beverage, which means it’s a beverage that has acid in it. You’re already familiar with acidulated beverages if you drink lemonade or limeade. In the case of shrub, the acid is usually vinegar, but historically, it sometimes was citrus instead of vinegar.
The word “shrub” derives from an Arabic word, “sharab,” which means “drink.” Sharab arose in Persia and Turkey as a quaff for teetotaling Muslims, and in fact, it’s still popular in parts of the Muslim world today.
Sharab was usually dried citrus juice, turned into a powder and mixed with spices, ground nuts or dried flowers, and other flavorings. To drink it, you’d dissolve the powder into fresh water. Sharab gave birth to another food that we know well: sherbet. If you took that citrus-flavored water and either chilled it down with snow or froze it, you’d have a citrus dessert. Sharab therefore led to both shrub and sherbet.
After European merchants took shrub back home, it became popular on ocean-going vessels. Being originally a citrus-based drink, it was effective at fighting scurvy, although no one at the time connected scurvy to a vitamin-C deficiency.
So researching the book took me deep into the history of piracy in England, naval history, and the history of the slave trade. Very little of that made its way into the book, although an early draft of the manuscript had a story of a gruesome slave rebellion that took place aboard a ship bound for the Caribbean.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out your writing? How do you overcome that challenge?
I have two kids at home, both under the age of four, and I’m their primary daytime caregiver. The biggest challenge is, then, obvious if you’ve ever met a toddler: figuring out how to balance the demands of work and family. The minute I have one or both children asleep, I race to the computer to peck out as many words as possible before one of them wakes up crying.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m working right now on another cocktail book, due out (tentatively) in Spring 2016. I can’t discuss the topic yet, but I’m having fun researching and writing it.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I’m messy, so my space is always cluttered. I guess I’m one of those people who finds inspiration in clutter. Or I’m just lazy. Because I write about cocktails and booze, I like to have other books around me on the same topic, especially books with a historic bent, for research purposes.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
I have the opposite problem. When I’m writing, I get so involved in the process that I forget to eat. The only thing I usually have at my side is a one-liter bottle of water. Or black coffee, if it’s the morning.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I’ve been published in Serious Eats; PUNCH magazine; the Edible publications Rhody, Manhattan, and Brooklyn; and other venues.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I’m on Twitter at @dietsch, and I have an author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/michaeldietschauthor.
Thank you again for joining us, Michael! For those of you interested in Shrubs, we’ve got the book for sale at ABSW!