Some spirits are crawling with creepy creativity and maybe a few critters
There’s an old Scottish prayer that goes, “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night. Good Lord, deliver us!” Those Scots do know their bars.
For ghoulies and ghosties, one only has to step in the front door of any liquor store or well-stocked bar to confront every imaginable spirit, distilled and otherwise.
Stick around until last call and watch the patrons go bump in the night.
As for beasties, just look on the shelf or behind the bar or right there on the menu.
Long-leggedy? Just mix up an ounce of crème de menthe with an ounce of crème de cacao and 2 ounces of heavy cream and behold! One Grasshopper.
Creatures intentionally kept in a bar might be a novelty still, but they are hardly new.
One has to think no further than the famed worm in the tequila bottle. Granted, the worm isn’t a legged beast, but then it isn’t actually even a worm. It’s a moth larvae from one of two kinds of bugs that live in the agave plant. Mezcal-maker Jacobo Lozano Páez is said to have started the tradition in 1950 after finding a larvae in one of his batches. Whether he simply didn’t want to throw out otherwise good mezcal, saw a great marketing gimmick in the making, or, as he said, thought the white beastie actually improved its taste, isn’t known for sure. But the idea caught on.
A number of mezcal brands still sell this way, and are available locally, although you might need to ask your liquor store to special-order a bottle. Among the wormy brands are Monte Alban Mezcal Con Gusano, El Recuerdo De Oaxaca Mezcal Con Gusano, Wahaka Reposado Con Gusano Mezcal and La Penca Con Gusano Mezcal. Con gusano in Spanish means “with worm.”
It didn’t take too long for other mezcal makers to figure out that if people liked the idea of paying to drink with worms, maybe Páez was onto something. Soon, a number of distillers decided other bugs could work just as well, especially exotic-looking things like large centipedes and scorpions, frightening little creatures found in abundance. There are a number of brands on the market with full-sized scorpions inside, some quite expensive. Locally, one can find Scorpion Anejo Mezcal with, if this is important, an edible scorpion included. Not available in Texas, but in other states where one can purchase a bottle and return with it, is Scorpion Vodka. It’s English-made vodka with a large, farm-raised scorpion.
Six years ago, The Cambridge Distillery and the Nordic Food Lab of Copenhagen began bottling a unique gin called Anty Gin. It’s made with a number of very gin-common ingredients, like Bulgarian juniper berries, wood avens, nettle and alexanders seed. Oh yes, there also are foraged red wood ants. These ants were chosen because they’re known to communicate using pheromones said to have a salt and vinegar scent. A bottle of Anty Gin comes with a dropper bottle of pure ant distillate, said to contain about 62 red wood ants. It’s available for purchase in some states in this country, but a word of caution: Ant pheromones don’t come cheap. Plan on paying $300 or more per bottle.
Drinkers in Texas, however, can find a number of bugged products to up the cocktail-making game.
In 2013, a young couple in Charleston, South Carolina, started a cocktail-mix company called Bittermilk. The idea was to make the process of creating craft cocktails at home much easier. Their handmade mixers made with all-natural and organic ingredients quickly won them a number of awards and a lot of attention. One particular mixture, the Bittermilk No. 4 — New Orleans Style Old Fashioned Rouge, stood out, not just for its bittersweet flavors of lemon peel, licorice, wormwood and fennel, but for its namesake red color. Rather than using an artificial coloring, they discovered an ancient, all-natural coloring method from South and Central America that uses pulverized female cochineal beetles. The red hue created enhances both the flavor and the appearance. The makers suggest mixing it with rye whiskey, ice and a lemon twist.
In an ingenious effort to tackle the art of cocktail making as well as hunger, East Coast innovators Lucy Knops and Julia Plevin came together to get people over any reluctance of eating bugs by having them drink them. They came up with Critter Bitters, a line of cocktail bitters made with toasted crickets, which by coincidence, happened about the same time craft cocktail makers renewed a long-lost love affair with bitters. The novelty of consuming toasted crickets and the popularity of cocktail bitters have made for a very chirpy success. They now offer four choices, Vanilla Cricket, Cacao Cricket, Toasted Almond Cricket and Pure Cricket. As the company’s website states, “Cocktails may not save the world, but eating bugs might.”
For many, it may take time and baby steps to drink from worm-laden mezcal, ant-juice gin or pulverized beetle juice mixers, but one small step is to sip drinks with creature comforts in mind rather than included.
Time will tell if and when every well-equipped bar includes a bug zapper, but until then, as Geena Davis’s movie character Veronic Quaife said, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
That was a famous line in the 1986 movie, “The Fly,” which, at the bar, is made with muddled strawberries and sage mixed with an ounce of honey, an ounce of lemon juice and two ounces of gin.
From “The Craft of the Cocktail,” (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York), by Dale DeGroff
1½ ounces Bacardi rum
½ ounce Kahlua
1½ ounces milk or half-and-half
3 ounces Coca-Cola
Pour all the ingredients into a tall glass over ice. Stir and serve with a straw.