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Trendinista: Mixologists raise the bar for cheap drinks

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Upgraded Jell-O shots have broad appeal.

Creative bartenders industrywide are still busy exploring the upper limits of craft cocktail culture and pricing. But a handful of operators have figured out there is money to be made on the lower end of alcoholic beverage spectrum, too. Their vehicles of choice: Jell-O shots—a party starter without peer—and boilermakers, the old-school combo also known as a shot and a beer. Both drinks, upgraded to seem mixology-worthy, are finding an audience in restaurant bars.

Jell-O shots have no equal as an impulse buy item that delivers high margins. The drawback: they’re perceived as an entry-level drink ordered by those who don’t know enough to choose something better. Unless your customers are college students on spring break or 20-somethings intent on getting trashed in a hurry, they want to a more sophisticated drink.

But that perception may be ready to change. A recent trend report from CNN’s Eatocracy blog predicts a “Jell-O Shot Redemption.”

“Was there ever a tackier way to consume alcohol than these neon colored shooters, the ones that invariably brought on bad flashbacks the next morning?” Eatocracy asks. “Now Jell-O shots are super cool.”

The people who run Ludlow’s Cocktail Company think the prediction of a growing market for Jell-O shots could come true. They’re producing a line of premade “Jelly Shots” for consumers. The product gives a slurpable spin to popular cocktails like the Fresh Lime Margarita, Meyer Lemon Drop, Old Fashioned, Planter’s Punch and Moscow Mule.

Ludlow’s is the brainchild of Freya Estreller, one of the founders of gourmet ice cream sandwich maker CoolHaus. Her line of frozen desserts began life as a food truck offering and is now sold in thousands of grocery stores nationwide. CoolHaus treats are also available online, at a namesake standalone shop in Culver City, CA and at company food trucks that roam in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Austin.

Estreller has already demonstrated she knows how to jump on a trend and build it up in a hurry. And she might be wrong that there’s a market for prepackaged Jell-O shots. But her basic idea—make hip cocktails cheaper and more accessible—seems smart. Restaurant operators, who already know how to make Jell-O shots and have the staff and equipment to make them in large batches, might think about how to elevate their bar’s Jell-O shot selections.

As one-off promotions, shots could be tough to beat. A customer having a birthday? Bring out the birthday cupcake jelly shot. St. Patrick’s Day coming up? How many Irish Car Bomb shots do you think you could sell?

A better question to ask might be “do you think your restaurant’s bar could make Irish Car Bomb Jell-O shots fast enough on St. Patrick’s Day?” Bartenders can’t just whip up Jell-O shots to order. The drinks have to be made well in advance. Or at least they did before the Jevo was invented. It’s an automated machine that fits behind the bar and can churn out 20 Jell-O shots every 10 minutes.

“The profit potential of Jell-O + edible shots is undeniably huge,” says Jeff Jetton, cofounder and c.e.o. of Food & Beverage Innovations, which makes and markets the machine. “We saw an opportunity to help businesses maximize those profits by turning an archaic, manual and inconsistent process into one that’s fast, easy and profitable. We looked at the success of other automated machines like the Keurig and Sodastream, and realized we could apply that level of automation to Jell-O and help drive revenue for bars, nightclubs, resorts, casinos, family entertainment centers and restaurants globally.”

The Jevo machine quickly mixes alcohol, a flavor pod that must be purchased from Jevo and other ingredients to produce shots in bulk, fast. Twenty flavor choices are available right now, the company says. Expect more to be added soon.

No new technology is needed to improve a restaurant’s boilermaker experience. All a bartender is has to do is give the customer a beer and pour him or her a shot. How to elevate this experience, or even make it relevant to the contemporary customer? The just-opened Boilermaker pub in New York City has the answer. The menu provides a mixologist-curated list of shot and beer pairings.

Here are some combinations presented on Boilermaker’s opening menu:

• Narragansett Lager, Ancient Age 80 Proof Bourbon  ($4)

• National Anthem: Brooklyn Lager, Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon ($8)

• Beer Eye on the Straight Rye: Two Brothers Cane & Ebel Red Rye Ale, Sazerac 6Yr Old Rye ($10)

• Machete in Space: Tecate, Cabeza Blanco Tequila ($8)

• Dark & Bitter: Victory Storm King Stout, Ramazzoti Amato ($9)

• Bucket of Boilermakers (for groups of 3 or more): Six-pack of Miller High Life, Six Shots of Buffalo Trace ($45)

It’s an imaginative way to satisfy patrons who are watching their wallets but want to drink as though they didn’t have to. As may be true for Jell-O shots, a restaurant bar’s ability to provide a hip boilermaker experience for relatively little money could be just as big a draw as having a celebrity mixologist who concocts $14 cocktails. Maybe, in the long run, even bigger.

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