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Libation, A Bitter Alchemy Hardcover – June 2, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"There will be obvious comparisons between Deirdre Heekin's thoughtful observations, musings, and distillations of Italian culture and those of other writers of expatriate life under the Tuscan sun, clouds and beyond, but Heekin incorporates an entirely other essence largely overlooked in that genre: the alchemy that fuels all of those glorious meals and recipes she recounts, not only in Italy, but Vermont, Paris, New Orleans, and Belfast. From jug wines to Brunello, rosolio to Campari, Sazeracs to Murphy's Irish Whisky (neat, please!), Heekin rightly discovers along the way that the true recipe for great alchemy demands the magic of memory, and all the wonderment and discovery that come with it."--Anthony Giglio, author of FOOD & WINE's Wine Guide 2009 and 2010, Cocktails in New York, and several Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guides

"Deirdre Heekin sets a bountiful table for her readers. Libation is like the best of meals, in this case one with plates full of delicious memories and ruminations on passion and curiosity. And, finally and most importantly, there is a most satisfying dollop of love, a fine dessert which leaves us with an almost unimaginably sweet regard for life."--Neal I. Rosenthal, author of Reflections of a Wine Merchant

"The combination of travel, the alchemy of liqueurs, and her sheer joie de vivre make Heekin's book as delicious, intriguing, and warming as any of the recipes she pursues."--Joseph Olshan, author of The Conversion

"The alchemy of Deirdre Heekin's beautifully evocative memoir, her libation in tribute to the art of making wine, spirits, and other 'waters of life,' is not only the alchemy of grapes as they ferment, or that of an American couple falling in love with French and Italian cordials and spirits, or that of the pungent taste of liqueurs, whiskeys, and eaux de vie remembered on snowy Vermont evenings with such intensity that fervent, joyful, sun-filled memories of love, friendship, pleasure, and bliss come alive. It is also the alchemy of a prose transformed into a spirited and intoxicating poetry."--Richard Stamelman, author of Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin; A Cultural History of Fragrance

About the Author

Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber are the proprietors and, respectively, wine director and head chef of Osteria Pane e Salute, a boutique restaurant and wine bar in Woodstock, Vermont, recently acclaimed in Bon Appétit, The Boston Globe, Travel and Leisure, and Attaché. Heekin and Barber grow most of their own produce in addition to working with local farm partners. In preparation for his role as head chef of Osteria Pane e Salute, Barber apprenticed with an artisanal baker and in a small trattoria in Tuscany.

Heekin and Barber live in Barnard, Vermont, where Heekin produces artisanal after-dinner brandies and micro-vintage garage wine for the osteria. Visit Deirdre and Caleb's blog, Fuoricitta (Out of The City), at http://fuoricitta.blogspot.com/


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; 1 edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603580867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603580861
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,480,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on July 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sometimes a book is not only good, but its timing is perfect; it may come along when you've been reading other books with which the new tome perfectly integrates and serves as a necessary complement. Such is the case for me with "Libation". I've been on a "foodie" kick in my reading, having read all three of Michael Ruhlman's books chronicling his stint at the Culinary Institute of America for culinary arts training and his subsequent exploration of the rise of celebrity chefs, plus Martha Rose Shulman's book "Culinary Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training at The Culinary Institute of America". All are excellent and give a thorough view of the demanding nature of the business and the technical expertise that is instilled and demanded of professional chefs.

"Libation" is the perfect accompaniment to these books.

While the previously mentioned titles are all about the mechanics of superb food preparation and expert techniques, "Libation" is a celebration of the sensuous aspects of food and beverage. While the other books keep us in the heat of the kitchen, "Libation" takes us to the sun-warmed heat of Italy in search of elusive tastes and scents. The frenetic pace of the kitchen characterizes the other titles, whereas "Libation" is a pastoral interlude, best read in a lazy hammock on a slow summer day.

The tidbits of history and fact interspersed in Heekin's account of her searches and travels for obscure and forgotten libations add to the enjoyment. I found myself spending hours online looking up additional information in response to chapters I'd read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Libation, A Bitter Alchemy Deirdre Heekin explores her experiences with wine and spirits through a series of loosely intertwined essays. Half the essays read like a travelogue recounting her experiences in Paris, Italy, the United States and beyond drinking, smelling, and experiencing wine and spirits. These journeys take us inside cloisters in Italy where nuns make wine to New Orleans where she goes in search of a good Sazerac. Her vivid descriptions of these experiences are interwoven with historical background about how these drinks came to be. The other half of the book are her journal entries from her wine making experiences. These are especially facinating becaues she takes you through her process, which given that she does not come from a winemaking family is interesting.

What made this book so likeable for me is that it is very poeticly written. The plots in her individual essays may be simple, but the way she describes the events make them worth reading. She has colorful ways of describing things that feel new and inventive rather than trite. I particularly love the scene when she is in the perfume shop in Paris because it is so easy for me to imagine, as if I'm able to take a sensory vacation just by reading. I could see where someone who is more plot driven and appreciates a matter of fact writing style might find her verbose. However I love descriptive writing so I found it perfect for me and no more verbose than other food writing. The only other nit I could see is that in reading from essay to essay there are some parts that can seem repetative but this doesn't happen often.

The bottom line is that if your are an oenophile or foodie you will enjoy this book. There is so much descriptive food and beverage writing.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a clever little book -- while many writers have written books like this about food, you don't often see it covering beverages. Heekin takes the winemaking experiments she and her husband are currently involved in at their vineyard in Vermont and interleaves them with travels (mostly in Europe) to learn more about numerous liqueurs, wines, and other drinks. Heekin's writing has a slightly spacey, stream-of-consciousness air that keeps it from becoming overly flowery or pretentious, yet remains vivid to the reader, covering things like an obscure Italian wine made by cloistered nuns (Heekin's description of a nun riding a John Deere tractor in full habit is both jarring and funny), the resurgence of absinthe in the US after its legalization a couple of years ago, a search for the true Sazerac in post-Katrina New Orleans, and even her first trip to her family's roots in Northern Ireland (a particularly strange trip where even the pronunciation of her name becomes an issue).

Sometimes dreamlike and sometimes painfully real, occasionally frustrating but always rewarding, Heekin's curious writing style is an interesting experience, but a ride worth taking, especially for a dedicated mixologist who knows there's more to drinks than heavy-duty blenders and loud music.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this collection of linked essays, Deirdre Heekin describes her growing appreciation for wine and the land from which it comes. Her musings range from her travels to the small winemaking villages in Italy to her life at home in Vermont where she and her husband own and manage an Italian restaurant that uses locally grown ingredients. In her own words, Heekin describes Libation as a book "about soil, vines, fruit, history, scent, taste, chemistry, and memory."

The breadth of the topics covered--from high-end perfumery in Paris to a casual family meal in Tuscany--ensures something to interest just about any reader. The lack of a central focus, however, renders Libation a bit disjointed. Heekin is knowledgeable and passionate about the subjects she discusses. Her writing is mostly charming but occasionally overloaded with technical detail. Winemakers and restaurateurs will appreciate the rigorous treatment, but armchair tourists will be left wanting more whimsy and less technique.
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