In college, making Jell O shots was an unsavory affair accompanied by a hazardous pour of vodka we would stir into a powdered mix of drinks. After the drinks were served and set, the jiggly shots were consumed by slurping and crunching a tiny cup or scooping with a finger.
However, there is a difference. At Solid Wiggles, a Brooklyn-based studio that produces jellies that are boozy or non-boozy, as well as cakes, mixologist Jack Schramm as well as culinary chef Jena Derman create cocktails that substitute the Kool-Aid or Kraft-Heinz tastes that we grew up with (think the ice fruit punch and blue raspberries) to Negronis and Jiggle middle or sours as well as Espresso martinis in solid form. Utilizing booze from smaller producers such as Faccio the Brutto Supergay as well as Gwendoline Gin and using ingredients such as sheet gelatin and organic fruit purees, Solid Wiggles eschews Jell-O shots with their low-brow reputability, transforming jellies that are spiked into something tasty and attractive. The final versions are single or two-bite cocktails that are disco-infused, refined, and elevated in taste and appearance. They’re typically Iridescent but sometimes geometrical and neon green or geometrical, feature edible flowers (made using condensed milk) or basketballs (orange and Hennessy) suspended in gelatin.
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Schramm and Derman are only two small pieces of the wave bar crowd bringing Jell O shots into the spotlight by putting together classy cocktails-like dance moves. For New York City alone, Marian’s team Marian’s creates a gelatinized version of their home-brewed Negroni that comes in two different ways: a traditional Negroni served with ice and a variant served jiggling in an ice cube. In SoHo, the fabled nightclub Milady’s offers a rotating menu of jelly shots. Patrons can sip down the neon-green Midori cocktail or a digestive-y Dreamboat, an after-dinner drink made from Faccio Brutto cocktail, orange, and lime (made by Solid Wiggles).
The presentation is similarly sophisticated to complement the exciting components of these shots. Instead of dull glass or plastic shot glasses, these are served in an elongated half-shell scallop. At Lillistar, a hot, high-energy spot on the top of Moxy Williamsburg Hotel, guests can enjoy a high-energy hot site on the roof. In Moxy Williamsburg Hotel, guests dance to DJs and sip back Jell-O shots served with soup spoons. The current offerings include Jelly French 75s and Lychee martinis.
In the United States, White Lyan in D.C. produces the jellied Bombay Sapphire Grand Cru sours and serves them with Champagne chaser. 12 in Portland is a place that makes a gelatinized cocktail using limoncello made by the house with bergamot, lemon, and curacao. It then tops it off with a sophisticated splash of bubbly. “It’s a little bit of a throwback — most people who order it laugh as they ask for it,” says the general manager Sebastien Taffara.
The Jell-O shots of yesterday were intended for heavy drinking. The current Jell-O shots are conversation pieces that focus on food. “They’re stunningly beautiful, but also delicious,” Milady’s wife, Julie Reiner. “And they’re a enjoyable way to start (or finish off!) your evening.”
“Some customers react to the cocktail flavors, some react to the artistic vision, and others react to the pastry wonder,” says Schramm, who creates Lillistar’s, Milady’s, and Porchlight’s jelly shots. “The most gratifying moment isn’t the visual reveal (although we love that) — it’s when we watch them take the first bite and realize that we spent just as much time making them delicious as we did making them beautiful.”
In contrast to And unlike Jell-O shots of old and the past, modern-day photos don’t require a party; they can be customized according to your mood. Oddly Enough is a bar in Bed-Stuy, and the queer spot has served classics like jellied spiced margaritas, the N Egroni Sbagliato (with Prosecco), or a screwdriver for pineapple. All solid Wiggles are jiggly. At Dallas, Midnight Rambler offers Miami Vice-flavored shots of Jell-Othat are made of coconut milk with pineapple, coconut rum, and strawberry-lime in the form of eggs deviled. Hungry? In Gowanus’ Cafe Mars, look over the food menu to find the dish ‘jell-olives,’ a big Castelvetranos suspended in Negronified Jelly cubes. They’re closer to an aperitivo drink than an amplified shot.
Despite their common origins, they are entirely different, which refers to one of Jell-O’s more recent values: flexibility. As you can imagine, making gelatinized drinks, particularly ones that are becoming more creative, to be correct, isn’t easy. “[Making jell-O shots is] more scientific than our usual cocktail crafting,” says Twelve’s Taffara. “We need to make sure it’s consistency is just right and not turn into the consistency of a brick or making it too sloppy. The same principles are present in every cocktail creation – making sure that all flavors are balanced so it’s clean and bright without being excessivelysweet.”
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“A crucial thing to remember is that the final product won’t be a liquid!” Says Schramm. “Some styles of cocktails, primarily ultra-boozy drinks like Old Fashioneds or creamy drinks like espresso martinis, just don’t transfer well to a chewable jelly.” Fruit-forward cocktails that are citrus and tropical are best enjoyed in jelly.
“The past few years have been a time of overwhelming heaviness,” says Schramm. “Folks have become looking for a time prior to the onset of pandemics and a global boil when things were simple. They’re looking for some levity and fun in general! We’re delighted to make something exciting and delicious that gives some relief, even if it’s only for a short time.”