Lately, there's no stopping the march of the gin and tonic. Far from the simple recipe of the past, today's G&Ts follow a rule of maximalism: decorated with seeds, roots, flowers, fruit peels, chocolate—you name it, it's possible. Even though my grandma doesn't understand why anyone would want to throw an entire salad into their drink, and some foodies argue that the G&T has long been out of fashion, it's still one of the most popular drinks out there.
But even as bartenders have continued to experiment with different gins, tonics, and toppings, chef Kristof Marrannes of the Michelin-starred restaurant Ter Leepe in Belgium might have just taken the cake: His gin is made with lobster.
A little backstory: Marrannes is obsessed with food pairings, so he naturally wanted to create a gin that goes well with lobster dishes. He started experimenting with lobsters that his restaurant typically uses to make lobster bisque. Macerating the crustaceans in pure booze, he discovered, draws out their sweet, briny aromas and flavor. After they soaked in alcohol for about two days, Marrannes threw the tasteless lobster away. He distilled the spirit by heating the lobster-flavored alcohol, condensing the vapors that are released in the process; he then mixed that lobster distillate with ordinary gin. "The result was so good that the gin can be perfectly drunk as an aperitif as well," Marrannes told me.
After collaborating with liquor company Spirits by Design, Marrannes decided to produce more under the name Lobstar. Available in stores from next month, a half-liter bottle will cost 59 euros (about $63) and require about 250 grams of lobster to produce. At Ter Leepe, a glass of Lobstar will be garnished with parsley, lemongrass, and a slice of lime, and served with a tonic that is as neutral as possible.
Not if you ask animal rights activists. Belgian animal welfare organization Gaia has blasted the spirit as being cruel to crustaceans. Gaia chairman Michel Vandenbosch called the project "insane," saying that animals shouldn't have to suffer "in order to add a tiny bit of aroma to yet another gin and tonic."
But Marrannes told me that it's all been a big misunderstanding. He claims that when a journalist asked him if it would be possible to make the gin from live lobsters, he said yes. But then articles began cropping up, reporting that he was drowning live lobsters in alcohol. It didn't help his case when he added that the alcohol would immediately stun a live lobster, knocking them out in the process.
The controversy doesn't end there. Petra de Boevere, a Dutch blogger, claims that lobster-infused gin isn't even gin). She notes that, according to EU regulations, the drink can only be made from plants in order to legally qualify as gin. De Boevere also thinks Marrannes' claim to be "the first in the world to make a gin on the basis of a living being" is nothing short of outrageous. That's like "claiming that you succeeded in making a soda with alcohol," she writes.
While vegans probably won't be ordering up glasses of Lobstar anytime soon, some of us can sit better knowing that it's not exactly made with the cold sweat of a tortured animal. And don't worry: it won't come with a lobster leg in your glass for decoration, either.