A New Class of Upscale Jello Shots for When It’s Time to Celebrate

At the bottom of the cocktail ladder, where the cheapest ingredients and most potent regrets reside, is the jello shot. The dive bar version requires only hot water and booze poured over saccharine powdered gelatin, then two hours to firm in the fridge.

But professionals are giving the frat-party staple a Champagne toast. When they work with top-quality ingredients, high-tech equipment, and sheet gelatin, it can take two days to craft the shapes, given the elaborate multistep process.

AtSilver Lyan, set in the former bank vault of the grand old Riggs Washington, D.C., Ryan Chetiyawardana has created a “jello fruit basket,” a magnificent array of wobbling mini cocktails. (The bar is temporarily closed because of the pandemic.) “We serve the basket with shots of proper, dry Champagne,” says Chetiyawardana, whose London spotDandelyan was named World’s Best Bar in 2018. (A new list of the “>100 best bars came out Thursday.)

The treats in the $80 basket are inspired by classic recipes: An apple martini is made with fresh juice; a tequila sunrise in an orange zest package has a hit of vermouth to accent the citrus; and a passion fruit daiquiri balances tropical sweetness with light tannins from the fruit shell. The stunning presentation isn’t even the point, he says: “It’s all about the fact they’re superfun.”

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Chetiyawardana isn’t the first notable mixologist to turn his attention to this jiggling form of cocktail. The recipe allegedly first appeared in Jerry Thomas’s The Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, published in 1862. (The gelatin he called for was essentiallyfish bladders.)

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AtMontrose Cheese & Wine in Houston, manager Pam Cantú doesn’t have a license to carry hard spirits; instead she uses a bottle of a lower-alcohol Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro to make her shooters. Cantú combines the amaro with OJ and gelatin and serves it in a hollowed-out orange so the skin’s essential oils flavor the shot, too. The liqueur gives the sophisticated treat an appealingly sharp and smoky herbal kick.

“It’s more than a drink,” she says. “It’s an experience.”

The country’s most ambitious jello shots hail fromSolid Wiggles in New York. Jena Derman, a former confectioner at Milk Bar, and mixologist Jack Schramm have teamed up to produce intricate creations that look like art and taste first-class.

Derman uses a Spinzall,a culinary centrifuge, to clarify ingredients. With a pastry-tipped syringe, she shapes mint-infused milk that she’s thickened with gelatin into flower forms inside the transparent jelly.

For Election Day, Derman and Schramm offered Coming Up Roses, which is made with gin, coconut water, mint, and lime. It’s a nod to the modernist gimlets Schramm mixed when he worked at the New York cocktail institution Booker & Dax.

“We are thinking of them like well-balanced cocktails,” Derman says. “They’re a universe away from cherry-vodka jello shots.” Solid Wiggles sells them to-go for now—packages of six are $40 for pickup—but plans to have mail-order delivery nationwide by early next year.

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