Let’s Eat

Molecular mixologists offer edible cocktails to entice new guests.

At Milady’s bar in New York City, an updated, upscale version of Jell-O shots and caviar-style “popping pearls” (pictured) lets guests eat their cocktails.
At Milady’s bar in New York City, an updated, upscale version of Jell-O shots and caviar-style “popping pearls” (pictured) lets guests eat their cocktails. (Photo by Shannon Sturgis)

While many consumers are familiar with the idea of Jell-O shots, few have experienced the upscale versions being made by today’s science-savvy bartenders. More than a simple spirits and Jell-O mixture, the new crop of edible gelatinous cocktails are made with premium ingredients and high-end mixology techniques, offering a true cocktail-turned-food experience. New York City bar Milady’s reopened in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood in October with a new management team led by cocktail heavyweights Julie Reiner, Susan Fedroff, and Christine Williams. Their revamped drinks program includes two upscale Jell-O shots and juice-filled, caviar-style “popping pearls”.

“Jell-O shots and popping pearls bring a sense of nostalgia,” says beverage director Natasha Mesa. “A cocktail experience is all about being social and having a good time. We offer two edible cocktails and I don’t see how they can be perceived as anything but fun.”

Modeled after old-school Jell-O Jigglers, the cocktails include the Blue Hawaiian, comprising Banks 5 Island Blend rum, Giffard Blue Curaçao liqueur, lemon and pineapple juices, and coconut water-based simple syrup, served with orange popping pearls, and the Pomegranate Paloma, blending Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila, pomegranate-molasses syrup, lemon and grapefruit juices, and habanero pepper-infused hibiscus tea (both Jigglers are $35 for four, with the option to add more for $9 each). The bar staff at Milady’s uses gelatin sheets to make the edible drinks, mixing the liquid elements as they would a traditional cocktail and then stirring them over low heat with the gelatin. The gelatin is pre-soaked in cold water and the cocktails are blended with it over a very low heat to preserve their flavor, and the final mixture sets in a refrigerator for at least eight hours.

“The process doesn’t affect the taste of the drink,” Mesa explains. “You can create a wide range of textures and mouthfeels by using different gelling agents. We’ve used agar agar, xanthan gum, gellan gum, and sodium alginate. Our cocktail Jigglers are made in advance, so they make their way to the table very quickly.”

Mesa does acknowledge the difficulties of offering edible drinks, however. “Not only is it time consuming to make these little delights, but you have to make batches in bulk, which comes with space and storage issues,” she says. That said, Mesa adds that the concoctions are popular and well-received by a wide range of guests.

At creative Dallas cocktail bar Midnight Rambler, head bartender Gabe Sanchez has experimented with boba tea-style tapioca pearls before, and he’s taking the plunge into full-on edible cocktails for this holiday season. Sanchez has created a deviled egg-inspired edible drink called the Miami Granny, which is his play on the Piña Colada-Strawberry Daiquiri blend the Miami Vice. The concoction will include an “egg white” made from Bacardi Coconut rum and coconut cream gelled with agar agar, which is then topped with an “egg yolk filling” made of Havana Club Añejo Blanco rum, pineapple foam, dehydrated strawberries, and lime zest (price was not set at press time). This is a sequel to Midnight Rambler’s popular Mama Guela drink ($14), an update on the Ranch Water cocktail that blends Patrón Silver Tequila, lime juice, and mineral water, accented by boba pearls made from a house-made cordial of lavender, prickly pear, and hibiscus.

“We like to create unique cocktails that are experiences, so we’re always trying new techniques to achieve that goal,” Sanchez says. “Guests loved the lavender-prickly pear-hibiscus cordial boba pearls, which inspired us to try a fully edible cocktail—the ‘deviled egg’—on our holiday menu.”

Sanchez recognizes how labor intensive and time consuming such drinks are to make and notes there’s a struggle between pushing the envelope on creativity and offering feasible drinks that can be made daily. “Guests are always looking for what’s new and what’s next,” Sanchez says. “Molecular gastronomy techniques and ingredients are alive and well. We’ll always see people trying new, experimental ideas. However, having these types of applications on an everyday menu is a big ask.”