Love Bugs

Originally published in Unfiltered #82.
Words: Duncan Gorman


Going against the grain is nothing new to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and on our 40th anniversary we’re celebrating four decades of doing things differently. With that in mind, Society writer Duncan Gorman decided to set up a tasting with a distinctly maverick flavour – with three adventurous members roped in to put it to the test.

After bravely volunteering to take part in a tasting pairing whisky with insects, three maverick members arrived somewhat nervously at The Vaults with the task of discovering: will this really be as bad as it sounds?

In the Tasting Room they found a table set with a dozen small plates, all concealed by white napkins. Unsure of what to expect, members Lannie, Steve and Scott (for added measure, an arachnophobe terrified of all things creepy and crawly) were all cautiously excited and shared nervous smiles as they got to know each other. Having roped these poor people into my plan with the promise of free whisky, even I had one or two second thoughts.

To assure myself that what I had set up wasn’t completely crazy, I chatted with Dr Vladimir Blagoderov, the principal curator of invertebrates at the National Museums Scotland, who also happens to be a member of the Society.

“I think it’s a great idea because we have to switch our dietary customs sooner rather than later,” he told me. “Earth cannot sustainably develop without moving towards other sources of protein. But we have to introduce it gradually and, particularly in developed countries, in a fun way.

“Eating insects isn’t a problem. In many countries, particularly those which are tropical, it’s a standard diet in many cases. My husband is in Peru visiting his hometown where they sell ants because that’s a traditional diet there.”



It was time to begin and veteran Society ambassador Olaf Meier distracted us from the dishes awaiting by luring us in with the first dram of the evening. Cask No. 46.148: Disco diva was a Young & Spritely 12-year-old Speyside matured in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel – and at 59.5% abv was the perfect antidote for any goosebumps. However, this wasn’t any old tasting, and it was time to peel back the first napkin. The members fell silent as they uncovered a clutter of small, yellow and slightly curled mealworms, which Scott later acknowledged to have small beady eyes that looked back up at him.

Having quite literally found ourselves staring face-to-face with the first course of the evening, we tried to pinch the incredibly fiddly critters between our fingers before shutting our eyes and crunching down. Steve was the first to take the plunge, who gave some reassurance by immediately reaching for a second handful. I, Lannie and Scott tenderly followed suit with the surprising conclusion that it was actually quite edible! I was met with an initial wave of nuttiness while Scott, who was coping remarkably well, compared the texture to a bag of Bombay mix. Washing it down with another nip of Disco Diva, added a kick of wasabi followed by stone fruits and green apples.

Steve was evidently quite peckish and would have happily kept snacking away on the mealworms had he not cleared his plate down to a last one or two.

With the first course under our belt it was time to move on to something a little more challenging.


First Olaf rewarded our courageous efforts with another spectacular dram, Cask No. 39.276: Raspberry fields forever. Another Speyside matured in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel, but this time 11-years-old, 61.7% abv, and finding itself in the Juicy, Oak & Vanilla flavour profile. 

We briefly savoured notes of juicy raspberry sorbet on apple crumble before it was time to brace ourselves for round two. After lifting his napkin Scott was horrified to find a collection of small crusty locusts, accompanied by one which was monstrously sized and dwarfed those lying on the other side of the plate.

Right on cue Steve got stuck in without any hesitation, shortly followed by Lannie, who, despite seeming slightly squeamish, didn’t hold back. However, Scott was visibly struggling, it appeared that every bone in his body was urging him not to put this gigantic beastie in his mouth. The largest locusts were around two inches long, and unlike the mealworms, were very defined because of their size. Their large red wings had black spots that glimmered in the light. Alongside beady eyes, a solid body and toothpick-like legs, this made it very challenging for me – never mind Scott. Whether it was down to the two cask strength whiskies, or just sheer bravery, Scott rallied and slotted the entire locust in his mouth.

Upon beginning to chew, waves of regret and disgust washed over his face. After somehow slugging it down and clutching for a dram, Scott declared the locust to be “absolutely minging*” that later left a questionable aftertaste in his mouth.

However, the slightly more palatable small locusts weren’t so bad and had quite a meaty flavour to them. And although they weren’t as nice as the mealworms, Steve munched through them quite happily.

Olaf moved gladly on and raised our spirits with Small Batch No. 15: Smokus fruticosus. This 10-year-old blended malt is comprised of bourbon, PX and oloroso casks and turned out to be a favourite amongst members.

A full-bodied dram filled with robust sweet, spicy and smoky flavours made for a fitting match for what was to come next. The third napkins revealed smoked crunchy crickets, which seemed like light work after what we’d just had.

The crickets replicated a similar nuttiness as that of the mealworms, but the additional smoke actually made it complement the dram well. There was a unanimous agreement this was the best suited pairing, with the heavy flavours matching each other nicely.


Other than the “absolutely minging” locust, I think we were all pleasantly surprised with everything we had tried. Scott had faced his fears head on and kept his cool incredibly well – although he did unsurprisingly admit that being able to feel the wings, legs and head of the locust inside his mouth was challenging. However, there was one extra critter that would test the members and Scott more than any other…scorpions.


After revealing the surprise guest appearance, I caught a glimpse of Lannie who was peering over her hand while covering her mouth in shock. Steve, in true character, couldn’t wait to get stuck in, while Scott remained rather subdued. Having each taken a piece and crunched through the crispy shell, we were all delightfully surprised.

Despite its intimidating nature, the scorpion was very sweet and salty and was without doubt the most enjoyable of the lot. In fact, we were quite sad there wasn’t enough for seconds, which was a problem I didn’t expect to face during this tasting.

Despite Scott admitting he would never forgive us for being accomplices to his locust trauma, our four-course meal had gone down (and most importantly stayed down) far easier than expected.

Lannie, Scott and Steve were all pleasantly surprised by the flavours and textures and even ended up going back for another nibble or two. And even if it had turned out to be utterly revolting, then so what? Why not push your own boundaries, break conventions, and try a thing or two that is out of your comfort zone.



Unfiltered Magazine is The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s premium whisky knowledge magazine delivering quality content exclusively to members in an immersive multimedia format monthly. To view Unfiltered #82 in its entirety (as well as all back issues), log in and access the members’ portal or join The SMWS today — the world’s most colourful whisky club.


About the Author:

Adam Ioannidis is SMWS Australia's Marketing Coordinator and general appreciator of whisky, music and cinema.

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