Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
I’ve tried a lot of weird and wild booze in my life, but this past weekend I got a chance to sample one of the strangest and most intriguing spirits I’ve ever encountered. The bottle in question was a gin made by Cambridge Distillery, which features an ingredient that you don’t normally see in craft spirits: dead red wood ants.
Anty Gin sounds like a gimmick at first, but just hear me out. The husband-and-wife duo behind Cambridge Distillery are booze geeks of the highest order, and there’s some legitimate method behind their madness. Here’s a quick snippet from their website:
Formica rufa, the red wood ant, are found in forests around the Northern Hemisphere, and are inspiringly sophisticated creatures. They communicate using a host of chemical pheromones, which allow them to form immense colonies housed in large mounds, and they defend their complex communities by producing formic acid in their abdomens and spraying it in the direction of any invader. Luckily for us, these very compounds hold great delicious potential. Formic acid (the simplest organic carboxylic acid, with the chemical formula HCOOH) is a very reactive compound in alcohol, serving as an agent for producing various aromatic esters. Furthermore, many of their chemical pheromones are the same volatile molecules, which we perceive as aroma. Through distillation of these wood ants, we can explore the tasty universe of these naturally occurring molecules and reactions, capturing the flavours of this fascinating species.