As we blew straight past spring and into summer this week, I found myself longing for nothing more than to kick back on a porch with a lime margarita. Instead, two nights ago, I sat on my roof eating a tangy, lightly salted jello shot with a plastic spoon. It was a shockingly good alternative.
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I know what you’re thinking: Jello shots, really? Sure, they were an easy way to pretend I wasn’t getting publicly drunk freshman year of college, but those days are behind me. I hear you. But Ludlows Cocktail Company’s Jelly Shots are not to be confused with the debauchery of your youth. They’re made with real, natural ingredients (yes, there’s lime juice in that margarita) and premium booze. Did I mention they’re completely shelf stable?
It all started when Freya Estreller, co-founder of the gourmet ice cream brand Coolhaus, decided to branch into spirits three years back. “Back in 2013, the ready-to-drink category was dominated by stuff like Bacardi and Jim Bean,” the LA-based entrepreneur told Gizmodo. It was a market filled with cheap booze, loads of sugar, and old white men. “I thought—how great would it be to see an all natural, ready-to-drink product that also used premium spirits, and was also a millennial-owned company?”
And jello shots, Estreller learned, were a niche no one had cornered. So she teamed up with a distillery and manufacturing partner in Michigan, and got to work on recipes. It took nearly a year—as anyone who’s ever dissolved vodka in jello will know, nailing the texture is a bit of an art. And Estreller wasn’t just mixing powder and liquor, but concocting jiggly cocktails from scratch using real ingredients with varying levels of sweetness and acidity.
“There was a lot of fine-tuning,” Estreller said. “A lot of playing with the sugar content and the gelatin content. Dealing with the fact that the acidity of lime juice breaks down gelatin.” But she persevered, encouraged by the initial reactions of friends. “Whenever we brought test samples to parties, people’s eyes would just light up,” she said. “It would bring them back to college.”
Estreller ended up with five different flavors: Fresh Lime Margarita, made with premium tequila, triple sec, lime, and salt; Moscow Mule with premium vodka, ginger beer, and lime; Meyer Lemon Drop with premium vodka, lemon juice, and rosemary; Old Fashioned, with two year barrel-aged bourbon, bitters, orange, and cherry, and Planter’s Punch with dark Caribbean rum, pineapple, cherry, lime, and coconut. Each of the shots contains 50-60 calories and 5-6 grams of sugar.
Consumer feedback helped Estreller figure out how much booze she could pack in. “One big thing was discovering that most people wanted to chill their jello shots before eating them,” she said. Since chillier solids can hold more liquor, Estreller was able to up the strength to 15 percent alcohol per shot—which also happens to be the sweet spot for ensuring shelf stability. “Shelf life is a huge selling point,” she said. “People love having pre-made shots that they can melt and rejellify indefinitely.”
Indeed, shelf stability always changes how we consume things. Think back to the first time you had a jello shot: you probably grabbed it off of a tray at a crowded party. The entire batch was gone within seconds, and that was that. Now, consider the possibilities with a jello shot that comes in a sealed container that can sit in your cabinet. Having a few friends over for dinner? Toss a pack in the fridge the night before for a novelty dessert. Want to sit alone on your porch and pretend you’re eating yogurt? Not a problem. And yes, you can still bust these out for the big parties—but without the headache of having to prepare gallons of gelatinous goop the night before.
Since launching in California in 2014, Ludlow Jelly Shots has expanded to stores in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Delaware, and Tennessee. And they’re still growing fast. So, if you’re looking for something different, nostalgic, delicious, and surprisingly not terrible for you to liven up your next social gathering, see if there’s a Ludlow Jelly Shots distributor near you. It won’t be like that time you slurped down too much cheap liquor and ended up blowing red chunks all over your dorm room. It’ll be so much classier.