GREEN ants and other ancient foods from one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures are being used as botanicals in Australian craft gins.
Two distilleries in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia have this month released gins made with green ants, a traditional indigenous food eaten for thousands of years by the Australian Aborigines for their high protein and medicinal benefits.
The gins also use a range of other native botanicals to provide a fresh Australian interpretation of a London Dry Gin.
Adelaide Hills Distillery is making the gin under contract for newly-formed Something Wild Beverages, a division of native food company Something Wild, which specialises in sustainably sourced indigenous foods such as kangaroo, wallaby, magpie goose, native herbs and fruits.
Adelaide Hills Distillery founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia said it took him several months to be persuaded to eat green ants and allow them to be put in his still.
“But once I did it was like an incredible flavour explosion in my mouth of lime and coriander flavours as well as a fresh acidic zing,” he said.
“It was just beautiful and I thought straight away ‘wow, they exist to be in gin’.”
A "pinch" of green ants, which are sourced under permit from the Northern Territory, are also put into the bottles in the same way worms are used in tequila to provide the finishing touch.
“That acidic zing doesn’t carry over in the still so we include some ants in every bottle and it just lifts the palate a bit,” La Forgia said.
“By putting them in the bottle, I’m hoping to encourage people to eat one and taste it.
“When people try one their eyes light up and they get a big smile on their face.”
Other Australian native foods used as botanicals in the gin include finger lime, pepper berry, the native juniper boobialla and leaves from strawberry gum and lemon myrtle trees.
“By using more leaves I was able to use less juniper while still maintaining those same characteristics that you would normally associate with gin,” La Forgia said.
The Australian Green Ant Gin has an ABV of 42 per cent and is priced at AU$97.50 on the Something Wild Beverages website for a 700ml bottle.
The company aims to have national and possibly international distribution for the product, depending on demand.
Under the collaboration between Adelaide Hills Distillery and Something Wild, profits from the botanicals gathered on Aboriginal lands flow back into those Outback communities.
“I think now is quite an important time because we are seeing the popularity of native foods increasing very quickly,” La Forgia said.
“It’s a feel good thing but it’s also very necessary to make sure that these ingredients are sustainable and that they are still there in the future.”
Meanwhile, Applewood Distillery’s Green Ant Gin is almost sold out of its limited edition of 300 bottles. The 500ml bottles are also 42 per cent ABV and cost $120 each.
Previous limited edition gins at the distillery, based in the Adelaide Hills village of Gumeracha, have included torpedoing gin with lavender and distilling gin through saltbush.
The Green Ant Gin features ants sourced under permit from New South Wales as well as a number of other native botanicals.
Head distiller Brendan Carter said the response to the gin had been “insane” and he expected the 300 bottles to be sold out by the end of the month.
He said the main constituent that gave the green ants their distinctive sharp, citrus flavour was formic acid.
“In this particular one we also wanted to emphasise the native citruses, which I think a lot of people are getting their heads around at the moment so there’s finger limes and a little bit of strawberry gum leaf in there too,” Carter said.
“Our limited editions are a complete once off so we’ll do that and move on to something else challenging and uber creative in typical Applewood fashion.”