12 Creepy Crawly Cocktails Made With Bugs
Bugs are crawling their way into cocktails—but not in a way that warrants a call to the health inspector. Bartenders around the world are taking cues from places like Mexico and Southeast Asia, where consuming insects is commonplace, and incorporating bugs into Fear Factor-worthy cocktails.
Scary as they may be, using bugs in cocktails isn’t just an icky stunt. London-based edible insect purveyor Grub is striving to prove that with an upcoming pop-up dinner featuring insect-based cocktails from mixologist Tomas Lenko of Strongman’s Tipple.
“If you treat it as a gimmick rather than something amazing with value, you can’t expect people to take it seriously,” says Grub co-founder Neil Whippey. “Crickets and grasshoppers have a mild and nutty taste, while ants have a wonderful citrus flavor due to the formic acid in them, and mealworms are oaty.” He is encouraging bartenders to incorporate these unique flavors into drinks and “make their customers realize how versatile and interesting [insects] are.”
Lenko created three cocktails for the pop-up: a Toasted Mealworm Negroni, bottled and aged with a toasted mealworm-infused vermouth; a Beer, Bug and Bourbon, a lager drink made with an orange buffalo worm marmalade; and the No Espresso Martini, made with vodka, cricket powder, dandelion root brew and a chocolate porter reduction.
“Cricket powder is a very nutritious ingredient, and it helps give this earthy classic coffee taste, without any caffeine,” Lenko says. “The taste is superb and it is served with a cheeky chocolate spoon snack covered with crispy mealworms.”
Lenko says that one of the biggest challenges with serving bug cocktails is convincing people to try them. “There's an uncertainty, maybe queasiness for the traditional cocktail drinker,” he says. “I want to show that insects don’t have to be scary ingredients by introducing people to their subtle flavors, which can really enhance a drink.”
For the curious home bartender, Whippey recommends dashing some cricket-based Critter Bitters into a drink, or making a savory mealworm salt for rimming. If you do attempt to DIY your own creepy crawly cocktail ingredients from scratch, keep in mind that edible insects like those sold by Grub go through bacterial tests to make sure they’re fit for human consumption, so as Whippey warns, “Don’t go into your garden and grab the nearest grasshopper.” Better yet, keep your hands clean and just try one of these daring insect cocktails from around the world instead.
Nightjar, London, UK
Zombie brains tend to come to mind when confronted with Nightjar’s Inca Cocktail, which comes in a skull-shaped tiki mug overflowing with buffalo worms. The worms’ main purpose isn’t to freak you out, though. They bring out the earthiness in the tequila, tomatillo and epazote, highlight the nuttiness of the fino sherry and hazelnut oil, and balance out the sweetness of the agave.
PettyCash, Los Angeles, CA
At first glance, this cocktail made with tequila, Suze, mint, cucumber, lime and citrus-spiked agave curaçao appears perfectly normal. But look closely and you’ll see it’s rimmed with sal de gusano. For those not up on their Spanish, that means “worm salt.” PettyCash is far from the only bar to use this spicy-salty condiment; sal de gusano (made from the larvae that live in agave plants) traditionally accompanies straight mezcal and orange slices in Mexico.
Duck & Waffle, London, UK
This Negroni variation is made with a formica rufa (red wood ant) infusion. Formerly known as the Woodland Negroni, the cocktail gets its earthy flavor from being slowly dripped through fallen leaves, soil, moss and bark for 24 hours. If the idea of bugs in your Negroni turns you off, we hate to break it to you but Campari was dyed red with cochineals, a beetle-like insect, up until 2006.
Ants appear both in and on this cocktail created by Native founder and head bartender Vijay Mudaliar. He blends locally-foraged weaver ants with rum and yogurt for a tart cocktail, then sprinkles larger, black Thai ants on top of a liquid nitrogen-frozen leaf for garnish. You’re supposed to pop the whole leaf into your mouth as a crunchy, pre-drink snack.
Smoky Jalapeño Margarita
Black Ant, New York, NY
Bugs are in everything at this NYC Mexican restaurant, from the grasshopper croquettes to sal de gusano-dusted french fries to chapulín (Mexican grasshoppers) ice cream. And the restaurant’s namesake insect is no exception. The Smoky Jalapeño Margarita is rimmed with black ant salt, an ingredient used liberally in much of the menu.
Hobgoblin Beer, Vermouth + Ants
Sager + Wilde - Paradise Row, London, UK
Forget smoking garnishes and black cocktails; this London bar went all out for Halloween last year with this creepy beer-tail made with golden ale, vermouth, grapefruit, strawberry, pink peppercorn, white tea, bay leaves and frozen wood ant ice cubes. As the ice melted, it released the ants into the drink.
Cricket and Grasshopper Cocktails:
Dinner Echo, Brooklyn, NY
Chef Joseph Yoon, founder of catering company Dinner Echo, makes the earthy base of this cocktail by steeping crickets in bourbon. He shakes the bourbon with a barley-lemongrass-mint tea, simple syrup and a dash of bitters, then garnishes the cocktail with a whole cricket. In making the cocktail, Yoon stumbled upon another way in which insects can benefit cocktails: The protein in the crickets helps create a frothy head, similar to egg whites.
Adventure Bar, London, UK
An Instagram-friendly favorite of guests at London’s hard partying Adventure Bar, the tall, frozen Cricket Soup is made with golden rum, raspberry liqueur, fresh raspberries, lemon juice and fresh mint, and is garnished with a “wise cricket.” Perfect for your next Snap story.
That’s right—we got into the insect cocktail game too. Unable to resist a good play on words, we garnished the classic, creamy Grasshopper with a skewered, white chocolate-covered, actual grasshopper. Challenge your guests to go beyond their comfort zone by serving this for dessert at your next dinner party. Fair warning: The squeamish may never attend another one of your parties again.
Insane Giant Bug Cocktails:
Valentine’s Day Cocktail
Duranbar, Tokyo, Japan
This central Tokyo bar made headlines earlier this year with their not-so-romantic Valentine’s Day menu, which included a walnut, chocolate and caramelized worms dessert, along with a cranberry cocktail made with giant Thai water bugs. Bartenders not only infused the bug’s internal fluid into the whipped cream topping, but also garnished the cocktail with a whole dang water bug.
Langham Tea Punch
Artesian Bar, London, UK
Artesian Bar was named the World’s Best Bar for four years straight, thanks to their innovative, envelope-pushing drinks. In 2012, the first year of their streak, the bar served up Langham Tea Punch, quite possibly the most extreme insect cocktail ever created. The ingredients included Courvoisier Cognac, Japanese sencha tea and a WHOLE OVEN-BAKED TARANTULA AND SCORPION. Thanks, Artesian, for the years’ worth of nightmare fuel. We were sleeping too much anyway.