Gin made with ants: Distillery adds new dimension to insect potential

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gin Alcohol Insects

A UK craft distiller and a Danish food lab have collaborated to produce Anty Gin: a product using the essence of red wood ants and botanicals. 

Anty Gin was created by ‘gin tailor’ The Cambridge Distillery, and Nordic Food Lab (a non-profit organisation based in Denmark that seeks to explore the edible potential of the region and broaden tastes). With Anty Gin reaching cult status, the distillery now intends to explore the potential of ants and gin in further varieties.

Red wood ants

Each bottle contains the essence of around 62 Formica rufa – ​red wood ants – as well as complementing Bulgarian juniper berries and botanicals wood avens, nettle and alexanders seed. Organic English wheat is used for the base spirit.

Red wood ants communicate using chemical pheromones, and defend their colonies by producing formic acid and spraying it at invaders.

Formic acid is a reactive compound in alcohol, and an agent for producing aromatic esters.

Will Lowe, master distiller, Cambridge Distillery, told the idea of using ants for gin came from Nordic Food Lab.

“We are the world’s first gin tailor, we specialise in making gins that are abnormal,” ​he said.

“When we were approached by Nordic Food Lab, there was no hesitation.”

The development process took a little over a year before Anty Gin was released in November last year. “We just something on the website, and it very quickly achieved cult status,”​ said Lowe.

Citrus and beyond

So what does Anty Gin taste like? Lowe describes it as a citrus flavour – an oversimplification, he says, given the earthy tones and other elements - but the easiest way to describe the flavour.  

“Gins have a citrus element, usually lemon, lime, grapefruit, but the question was: would it be possible to make a gin where the citrus element comes not from fruit, but from ants?

“Insects are a wonderful source of protein, of flavour, but the source is often overlooked by the western world.”

Lowe says he gets two main responses to the gin: “What?!” and “How much?!”

“When people taste it they see immediately why we’ve chosen the flavours. The taste is spectacular, people see why it’s a £200 [£310] gin.”

Labour intensive

Over 6,000 red wood ants have been foraged and preserved by Forager, a UK wild plant specialist. Distillation is carried out one litre at a time. Bottles are labelled by hand with a 1924 typewriter. Every step shows a dedication to craft, says the distillery.  

“It’s an incredibly intensive labour process – the gin is necessarily expensive,”​ said Lowe.

“It’s not a gimmick – we’ve done it to show it’s possible. If people didn’t say, euw, ants, there’d be no point to the project.

“The whole point is to challenge perceptions. If they don’t raise an eyebrow, they haven’t been listening.”

The first commercial batch of Anty Gin produced 99 bottles. Lowe says this product will be limited, but intends to explore the potential of ants and gin in further varieties.  

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