A little over a year ago, I was presented with a funny quandary. A couple of designers and I were hanging out in a backyard wondering how to make a cocktail that would highlight the flavor of crickets. Moonshine was a must.
It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve made it through the long week, and it’s time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo’s weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Also sometimes bugs.
Putting crickets in a cocktail is weird, I realize. I’m not talking about going out into the yard, scooping up some little green critters, and using them like ice cubes. The two designers in question, Lucy Knops and Julia Plevin, had already concocted a recipe for bitters based on the essence of toasted crickets. Part of the idea behind the design was to create a product that would warm people up to the idea of eating insects. Plenty of people around the world eat insects, and lord knows, there are plenty of insects in the world. Why go hungry?
I just couldn’t stop wondering how to craft a weird ass cocktail out of bugs and fun. I’m a Tennessee-born hillbilly at heart.
After over 18 months of research and development, Lucy and Julia perfected Critter Bitters. The toasted cricket bitters are hand crafted and tinged with obscurity in the best of ways, like an odd concoction you might find at a hipster’s apothecary. As Lucy and Julia figured out how to turn Critter Bitters into a real product, we exchanged recipe ideas. I wouldn’t shut up about the moonshine idea. And then, a day after the Critter Bitters Kickstarter page went live, the three of us met up at Gawker HQ with a bag full of booze and two vials of cricket-based intrigue.
Critter Bitters is launching two products. One is the simple Toasted Cricket Bitters; the other is the even simpler Pure Cricket Tincture. Both of them are alcohol-based, but the bitters include herbs and spices and other, while the tincture is just pure cricket.
Lucy and Julia didn’t disclose the recipe for the Toasted Critter Bitters, but the flavor aims to highlight the sweet, nuttiness of the crickets. Tasting the bitters alone, I also noticed a peculiar texture, oiliness even. It might’ve been my imagination since I knew I was eating something made of bugs. It might’ve been some fat from the famously protein-rich crickets. Either way, I liked it.
The tincture, by the way, is subtle enough that it’s great for pranking friends into drinking bugs. Just kidding, don’t do this. People with shellfish allergies might not appreciate it
Any bitters work well in a number of cocktails, as they’re essentially serve as the mixologist’s seasoning. Historically, bitters have also been popular mixed with water to make a health tonic. Based on my conversations with Lucy and Julia—as well as my Appalachian craving for moonshine—we decided that whiskey would serve as a great base for an extra special cricket cocktail. The original idea was to come up with some sort of Hillbilly Sazerac, but it made more sense to go off the trail a little, come up with something creative.
Lucy and Julia talked with a bartender friend, Albert DePompeis, and came back with some options. One recipe jumped out at me immediately for two reasons: Laphroaig and ginger beer. Bear in mind that I already demanded we include Critter Bitters and moonshine. The recipe called for all of these wonderful things as well as grapefruit juice, the best of all citrus juices. It’s also super easy to make, and I named it after one my favorite places in the Smoky Mountains, where I grew up.
The Chimney Tops
- 1 1/2 oz smoky scotch (Laphroaig works well)
- 1 oz moonshine (any corn whiskey will do)
- 2 oz grapefruit juice
- 2 oz ginger beer
- 1/2 oz Critter Bitters (super heavy dash, more than you think should be in there)
You just add the booze, juice, and bitters to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake hard. Then strain into either into a Collins glass over fresh crushed ice or serve straight up in a whiskey tumbler. Garnish with cucumber slice.
This drink is awesome. The Chimney Tops, like its cheesy but ultimately nostalgic name implies, tastes immediately smoky but inevitably light and refreshing. The Cricket Bitters take the edge off the scotch and moonshine, while grapefruit juice keeps the drink crisp. One brave tester even called it “slightly peppery.” It’s very delicious.
The Chimney Popper does pack a wallop, though. The moonshine we used, a new corn whiskey by Buffalo Trace, was twice as strong as the scotch but only detectable in the cocktail based on how drunk you feel if you drink it too fast. For that reason, alone, I might recommend the crushed ice. I like my cocktails straight.
I also like them to be laced with bugs. Now that Critter Bitters are out in the wild, I’m excited to try them out with some other mixtures. (I have a funny idea for a Darwin-themed cocktail for Navy strength rum.) Lucy and Julia came up with a few more recipes cocktail recipes that work with Critter Bitters, which I plan to try this weekend and have included below.
All that said, you can learn more about the bitters and the definition of the word “entomophagy” at the Critter Bitters Kickstarter page.
I went ahead and named these recipes from Lucy and Julia after other hillbilly-themed things. Please provide better suggestions in the comments but prepare to hear me defend my Smoky Mountain roots.
The Top of the World
- 2 oz Moonshine
- 1 1/2 oz apple cider
- 1/2 oz Benedictine
- 1/2 oz Cynar
- 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 3 droppers Critter Bitters
- Apple slice (for garnish)
Instructions: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin, shake hard, strain into a coup. Garnish with thin apple slice.
The Happy Valley
- 2 oz Moonshine
- 2 oz dark rum (Myers, Appleton’s)
- 1/2 oz Punte e Mas sweet vermouth
- 1/2 oz orgreat syrup
- 3 droppers Critter Bitters
- Orange peel (for garnish)
Instructions: Add all ingredients minus the bitters to a mixing vessel, add ice, stir and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Add bitters and garnish with orange peel.
Did you know that Mountain Dew was invented in Knoxville, Tennessee and named after the slang term for moonshine?
All photos by Michael Hession