In Southern and Central Mexico, roasted Oaxacan Chicatana ants are a delicacy. In the U.S., people are a little more reluctant to try them when they have the rare opportunity.
The opportunity will be a less rare for Minnesota beer lovers Saturday.
Forager Brewing Co. is releasing an imperial stout called Chicatanazzzzz that has been aged in barrels with the roasted ants.
T.J. Gedicke, director of Forager’s barrel program, said using the ants to condition a beer isn’t a stunt for shock value.
“It has to add flavor to the beer,” he said. “The ants themselves have an earthy, dark chocolate flavor with a smoky character.”
Gedicke first sampled the roasted insects last year when fellow Forager staff member and cook Elba Vasquez Pastrana shared some her mom sent to her from Mexico.
Forager staff jumped at the opportunity.
“I think people at Forager and craft beer drinkers are pretty adventurous,” Gedicke said. “They’re willing to try something once or twice and they’re looking for a story to tell as well.”
Gedicke enjoyed the flavor and considered using it in a beer. He would have to wait a year for the next spring rain season.
The beer Gedicke conditioned with the ants is a barrel-aged imperial stout blended with a vanilla beer. He said he wanted to do something straightforward so the flavor of the ants doesn’t get lost.
“These ants are so nuanced,” he said. “They’d be easily overpowered by other adjuncts.”
Roasting the ants and making food and sauces with them is a traditional delicacy in that region of Mexico.
Each spring, Oaxaca Chicatana ants move from their ground nests when the rainy season begins. That’s when people traditionally harvest the ants.
The insects are more than an inch long.
“I guess they have a pretty mean bite,” Gedicke said.
One trick harvesters use is to stand in buckets of water while scooping up the insects in bags and nets.
Vasquez Pastrana’s mom captured and then roasted the insects and sent them to Minnesota.
“It was a little Christmas in July for (Vasquez Pastrana) when the package arrived,” Gedicke said.
Gedicke blended 10 pounds of the insects and put them into two 30-gallon barrels to condition with the beer. It’s the smallest barrel-aged batch Gedicke said he has produced. The beer will be available in 22-ounce bottles on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning Saturday.
With such a small batch, Gedicke suggests showing up early for Foragerfest when it goes on sale. Otherwise, it might walk away before you can try it.