Not so long ago the only things that came in a bottle of alcohol (beside the alcohol itself) were the occasional odds and ends that fell in as it was being made, or some fruit that was deliberately shoehorned in to make it look decorative. Today there seems to be a craze for all sorts of objects jammed into bottles of spirit – scorpions, worms, and other creepy crawlies being particularly common. Actually distilling the essence of an insect to make an alcoholic beverage rather than just pickling it in a bottle, however, is a different prospect altogether. But now a company in the UK has done just that, by using an extract from ants to create a special type of gin.

Formic acid, the inbuilt defense mechanism for ants, is a very reactive type of organic compound, particularly when combined with alcohol. When alcohol and formic acid are brought together they produce a range of aromatic esters (compounds that produce smells and flavors) that enhance the taste of fermented or distilled drinks. The aromas of fruit, for example, are a product of esters, and this is also the reason that fruits are turned into alcoholic beverages – their flavors and aromas are enhanced when the sugars in them are distilled into alcohol.

Using the red wood ant, Formica rufa, which has been harvested from the forests of Kent, England, each bottle of Anty-gin, as it is known, will be infused with the essence of around 62 of these ants. Collected by a specialist company known as Foragers, the ants have been selected and maintained before being combined with a range of plants and berries and distilled into a 42 percent proof ant-flavored concoction.

To enhance the flavor a little more, other ingredients are added, including Bulgarian juniper berries, wood avens (a perennial forest herb), common nettle (Urtica dioica), and alexanders seed (a biennial wild relative of celery), along with a 100 percent organically-grown English wheat as the base for the spirit. Each distillation is also asserted to be done one single liter at a time.

The contents of the bottle, the makers claim, is all foraged by hand – from the ants to all of the wild plant ingredients – each ingredient is manually caught, picked, and blended. This anti-machinery bent gives way, but only slightly, when the bottle is labelled. Using a 1924 typewriter, each label is typed up one at a time.

A joint venture between experimental Copenhagen-based Nordic Food Lab and the Cambridge Distillery, only ninety-nine bottles of Anty gin will be produced in its first commercial run. At about £200 (US$312) per bottle, and only available at the Cambridge Distillery shop, it may be a drinking experience limited to a very few.

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