The traditional owners of the Darwin region, Larrakia communities have always harvested yams, bush apples, green ants and more. Now former North Melbourne and Port Adelaide AFL star Daniel Motlop is turning them into a range of uniquely Australian spirits known as Seven Seasons.
What are green ants? For Motlop and other Larrakia people, these fat-bottomed bugs were something you ate as a kid. You would bite off their bodies for a zingy citrus kick, or drink them in a tea by your mum. You could even scrunch up the nest to inhale their medicinal, citrusy scent to clear the sinuses – akin to a bush-style Vick’s Vaporub.
But it was only after Motlop and his family – including dad Edward and brothers Shannon and Steven – took over a small Aboriginal food harvesting business called Something Wild in 2016, that he had the idea to use the ants in a gin to represent the Darwin area and the Larrakia people who have lived there for thousands of years.
Citrus-tang and gin? Makes sense. It also made sense to expand into other spirits utilising Indigenous local harvests, including a second gin using the tart bush apples that grow around the Larrakia Darwin and Maningrida Katherine areas, and an earthy, spicy vodka made from native yams from the same region.
The collection – made in partnership with Adelaide Hills Distillery and comprising two gins, a vodka, a liqueur and some whiskies on the horizon – became known as Seven Seasons. It not only tastes like the very heart of Australia, but also provides regular income to Aboriginal people.
My brother Shannon leads the Aboriginal community harvesters’ program, where we get everyone to send all their ingredients from remote places to a central spot in Darwin. The last thing Aboriginal people want to worry about is refrigerated transport to get their food to a restaurant in Sydney in one piece. This way we coordinate it all for them and it either goes into our products or is sent to restaurants, and the money flows back into those communities.
Everything works in a circle and a cycle, whether it’s mother and child, plants, animals – it’s all part of it. The seasons tell you they’ve changed when they’re ready, not when a date drops, and so that’s the way we harvest our ingredients, according to those ‘seven seasons’.
It might be when a flower pops on a Kakadu plum tree, or in the windy time (Yiwanyji) when the green ants are in their nests without the queen – you don’t want to harvest the queen because she’s needed to carry on the ants’ life cycle for the next year.
It can be a bit frustrating from an ‘office’ point of view. Someone in the production line will say they need our ingredients by a certain date and we’ll say, no, [the] season’s not right yet. [We] have to wait [for] sustainability. It won’t be there next year if we don’t do it the right way.
When our Native Yam Vodka won the double gold at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition in 2021, that was pretty amazing. It shows just how good the product is, and opens people’s eyes to the fact that we have European-style ingredients here, but they’re Australian.
I was with the family at home when we found out – and we cracked open a bottle, as you do!
A Bush Apple sour is great. It’s just Bush Apple Gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup. And you can’t go past a G&T with Green Ant Gin with a leaf of lemon myrtle. Really nice.
I’d love to see Denzel Washington drinking a Green Ant Gin. I love that man, he’s such a great guy and a great actor. Then also there’s basketballer Patty Mills, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets in the US. He’s Torres Strait Islander [and Aboriginal descent], and our grandfather is Torres Strait Islander. I’d love to see him as an ambassador. Never know, one day!
Made with two types of native yam – one with notes of wasabi and horseradish, and the other that’s creamy and coconutty. “To me it tastes like the earthiness of Darwin in the dry season,” says founder Daniel Motlop.
Tart with notes of coriander and a little lavender on the nose. Boobialla, pepperberry, lemon myrtle and finger lime add a little magic to the essential gin juniper, plus there are flavours of spiced orange blossom and jammy forest berry. Selected stores only.
Strawberry gum adds spice, eucalyptus brings the nose, and there’s pepperberry for depth, but the highlight is the citrus acid pop of the native green ants, added before and after distillation. Boobialla also gives it a touch of coastal florality. Selected stores only.