Jell-O Shots Go Upscale

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When was the last time you had a Jell-O shot? At a college party where the red and green flavors were crafted with the most “economical” vodka/grain alcohol available? We thought so. But now, the gelatinous party favor is getting a makeover by Ludlows Cocktail Co., a new venture from Freya Estreller, who co-founded the high-concept Coolhaus ice cream empire.

The Los Angeles-based Estreller and her New York-based business partner Ethan Feirstein have developed five flavors based on classic or trending cocktails for Ludlows’ initial “jelly” shot line: Fresh Lime Margarita, Meyer Lemon Drop, Old Fashioned, Planter’s Punch and Moscow Mule.

Estreller says that Ludlows’ offerings are meant to be fun, innovative and spirited, and she’s using what she learned from the ice cream business to maybe change—and “disrupt”—the spirits industry’s ready-to-drink market segment. “We took an ice cream sandwich and reinvented it, so let’s do the same thing with the jelly shot and make it all natural. Use actual real sprits, like real, two-year old barrel-aged Indiana straight bourbon whiskey for the Old Fashioned and 100 percent agave blanco tequila for the Margarita.”

Unlike the college counterparts, Ludlows is keeping their shots classy (and natural). “We’re in review with Whole Foods right now, and I know what the [banned ingredients] list is from Coolhaus, so there’s no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors or flavoring.”

Selling a niche product to dubious retailers has been tricky, but Estreller’s been down this road before: “With Coolhaus in the beginning, we got a lot of ‘no’s,’ too, because people were like, ‘A $5 ice cream sandwich? No one is going to buy that…and architecturally themed? I don’t get it.’”

The line goes to full-scale production this month at the Temperance Distilling Company in Michigan, with the Ludlows Jelly Shots first arriving on store shelves at the California-based K&L Wines locations by the end of September.

Ludlows is in review with a few major retailers, and they’ll target independent fine wine and spirit stores next. Unfortunately, Estreller says they’re turning down a number of online orders because it’s illegal for them to sell spirits by mail. “The distilled spirits industry is three tiers: The producer, the distributor and the retailer, and the producer cannot be the distributor or retailer.”

Estreller is also learning about her new markets and audiences from anecdotal and personal experiences. “I’ll bring [jelly shots] to a dinner party instead of a bottle of wine,” she says. “A five-pack will retail for $12.49, which I think is pretty comparable to buying a bottle of wine.”

Most interesting for Estreller, however, is seeing the way different sexes approach the upscale shot. Women tend to eat the shots with a spoon after dinner. “It’s like a palate cleanser or digestif. It’s so interesting seeing that behavior,” she says. “But men still shoot them.”

So sometimes you can take that frat boy out of college, but….

Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.