‘Artisan’ gins are all the rage, with a seemingly endless range of flavours and ingredients.
One ‘botanical’ ingredient that’s less common is the red wood ant.
It’s an old tradition in northern Europe, with London particularly famous in the 18th century for having thousands of gin distilleries in houses across the city. Now, the ‘home distilleries’ are back, along with micro-breweries and the trend for craft beer.
Juniper berries are a common base ingredient, but all sorts of herbs, roots, extracts, seeds and grasses can be infused into gins. You can, of course, ‘do it yourself’ by putting berries and twigs in your gin and leaving it there for a while. Vodka works too.
It’s reflective of the move towards organic, natural and locally-available ingredients; an emphasis on freshness, taste and the revival of old techniques that has been growing in popularity.
But one ‘botanical’ ingredient that’s less common is the red wood ant. This is what Nordic Food Labs chefs, along with the Cambridge Distillery, have created: ‘Anty Gin’.
Sixty-two formica rufa ants are used in each bottle - the ants are infused into alcohol then distilled into a concentrate. This is then used along with botanicals to create a gin that, they say, has a flavour of nasturtium seed spice. It’s now being produced in the UK.
It’s the wood ants’ venom that creates the sharp, citrus-like flavour - a defence mechanism that allows them to spray formic acid at their attackers.