The worm—or more accurately, larval moth—dropped into bottles of cheap mezcal is perhaps the most famous of the “weird stuff in my booze” gimmicks. It’s beloved by tourists south of the border for its perceived exoticism and at the same time reviled by serious drinkers of artisanal mezcal.
In Australia, however, there’s a new gin on the market being made with little green ants. Though the bugs themselves are mostly decorative, their inclusion is far from a gimmick. In fact, it reflects millennia of food-harvesting traditions from indigenous Australian communities of the country’s tropical top end.
The aptly named Green Ant gin wears an attractive green and gold label around a bottled liquor that’s clear but for a few floating ants sporting vivid neon-green abdomens. These little guys are packed full of flavor, with intense pops of makrut lime and coriander comprising the predominant notes in the bug and the gin they have gone on to inspire.
The gin was initially developed as a project by aboriginal Australian footballing brothers Daniel and Shannon Motlop of the Larrakia people of the Northern Territory. Their native food-supplying business, Something Wild, collaborated with Adelaide Hills distillery to produce a spirit with a unique flavor that was created while honoring traditional methods.
For more than 65,000 years, native foods have been gathered from the wild without damaging the ecosystem, an approach that has been applied to the acquiring of ants and other ingredients used in Green Ant gin. “Bush tucker” is the Australian term for this foraged and hunted food, but just like anything consumed by humans, it’s extremely easy to overdo it.
That’s why Something Wild’s approach is to do things the way they’ve always been done. The bush tucker is hand-harvested by the traditional people of that land, providing them work and agency, with strict limits on how much can ultimately be collected. Nests are left with their queen and the juvenile ants, ensuring that each individual colony can continue on without excessive impairment.
Green ants are not difficult to find, which has made them a reliable source of protein and medicine over the centuries. But like other members of the bush tucker family, these qualities attract the attention of the commercial food industry, putting green ants into that prized haute category.
Chef Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma once sang the ants’ praises, officially adding the insect to the must-have menu. So in order to maintain the kind of sustainability these creatures need to still be around in a few decades, the Australian government has granted a permit to Something Wild so it can legally harvest them, trusting it to distribute the ants as desired to chefs and businesses that would like to use them.
Novelty and tradition aren’t all there is to Green Ant gin. Just this year, it won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The once limited-release spirit was in such high demand that it has turned into a staple. The proof of this success is in the flavor.
Boobiala is the native juniper used in this gin, with other native plants like finger lime, strawberry gum, lemon myrtle and pepper berry comprising the other botanicals, all of which are individually vapor-infused, then combined together later, to create a more delicate flavor.
The lime-coriander taste of the ant is the perfect flavor to lead the spirit, with each added component balancing out and complementing the central citrus. The spice of the pepper berry in particular helps to balance the citrus flavor. The actual ants are few in number and don’t factor into the gin’s overall profile, unless they’re being chewed, in which case they deliver an herbaceous zing.
Despite the many strong flavors included in the gin’s chemistry, the vapor-infusion process allows for a more subtle exploration of each of these native Australian plants, making it fun to drink straight, though it’s excellent as a Martini or a Gin & Tonic.
And just in time to ditch a Northern Hemisphere winter in favor of Adelaide’s Mediterranean summer, Green Ant gin can be sampled at the distillery’s brand-new cellar door in Nairne, Adelaide Hills.
It may be decorated with once-living insects, but Green Ant gin exists in a class of its own. Beyond bearing a refreshing, complex flavor that refreshes as well as it entertains, it pays tribute to the insects and botanicals that have sustained the longest-living culture on earth and invests in the social well-being for all involved. If you’ve sworn off insect-inspired liquors, now is the time to reconsider.