A good buzz? These cocktails have toasted bees and other critters

Yup. Those are worms in that there margarita. Avocado, too, which lends creaminess.
Yup. Those are worms in that there margarita. Avocado, too, which lends creaminess.Katie Quinn / TODAY.com

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By Laura T. Coffey

Looking for a cocktail with a bit of a thrill factor? How about a bit of a crunch factor? Well, then, here ya go.

White & Church, a new restaurant that just opened in New York City, has tailored a special section of its drink menu for would-be “Survivor” and “Fear Factor” contestants. The heading of that menu section: “Insects.” The offerings: High-end cocktails served up with dried grasshoppers, dried scorpions, spicy worms and – bzzzz!! – toasted honeybees as garnish.

“Oh, the stingers are taken away. No stingers at all,” restaurant co-owner Matteo Boglione said reassuringly. “They’re just crunchy, like chips.”

The insect drinks are the brainchild of Boglione’s wife, Cristina Bini, the restaurant’s mixologist and bartender. She’s made a name for herself in the Big Apple by creating cocktails that feature utterly unexpected ingredients, such as smoked salmon, cheese slices and booze-infused stones and tree bark. (Who knew that a nice, porous stone could be such an ideal delivery system for dry vermouth in a martini?)

Bini got the idea to incorporate insects into her drink-making magic after learning that bugs serve as important sources of protein for millions of people across the globe. Why not encourage North Americans to shake off the creep factor and drink a balanced diet?

Of course, here’s a question that might fly into the thoughts of an environmentally conscious drinker: With all the news of honeybees dying off en masse, is it really sensible to consume the critters in cocktails?

Cristina Bini, mixologist and bartender at White & Church in New York City, prepares to serve bugs to a willing participant.Katie Quinn / TODAY.com

Eh, don’t worry about it, said Walter Sheppard, a bee expert and chairman of the Department of Entomology at Washington State University.

“A honeybee colony has one queen and maybe 30,000 or 40,000 workers,” Sheppard explained. “You could harvest plenty of sterile workers and the colony would still be all right. ...

“Of all the problems facing the agricultural industry and honeybees and pollination ... being used up in drinks in some bar in New York City is not going to be anywhere near the top 100.”

OK, that makes sense. But what about people who are severely allergic to bee stings: Should they shun the drinks?

No need, Sheppard said. He noted that people who are allergic to bee stings react when a bee injects venom containing histamines and various kinds of proteins into their blood streams.

Grasshoppers! They're dried and spiced and ready for their close-up in a cocktail at White and Church.Katie Quinn / TODAY.com

“I would imagine there would be very little danger that you would be allergic to eating a dried bee, since it would go into your stomach acids instead of into your blood stream,” Sheppard said.

Intrepid TODAY.com video producer Katie Quinn dared to sample the insect drinks being served up in the first few days following the restaurant’s opening. The “Why Not?” is a margarita mixed with creamy avocado and topped with Mexican dried spicy worms. The “Summer,” made with Batida de Coco, oatmeal milk and sugar, is served with dried grasshoppers. (“Kind of reminded me of popcorn,” Quinn said.)

Though White & Church didn’t have a supply of honeybees on hand when we visited, they’re working on finding some soon to go in their “Rosemary” cocktail, made of cinnamon-flavored rum, apple juice, lemon juice, those bees and a sprig of the namesake herb. The “Blue Velvet,” served with scorpions, is made with a rare black opal liquor and will be offered as a special when available. 

Cost of these concoctions: $13 apiece – although they’re half price during happy hour, which runs from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. As Quinn pointed out, this means “you can get your very own insect drink for $6.50. For New York, that’s a steal!”

Would you drink a cocktail with insects?

Venue details: White & Church, 281 Church St. at White Street, New York. Phone: (212) 226-1607.

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