By Mary Breidenbach, et al
Ten Speed Press; $12.95 For the creative imbiber: Sharon Calhoon, Barrett Calhoon and Mary Breidenbach collaborated on a new book about gelatin shots.A long time fixture at college parties, gelatin shots are finally growing up. No longer just a bite-sized quick fix for cheap vodka served in a wilting Dixie cup, these slippery little “drinks” are quickly gaining recognition as a fun, irreverent and trendy new cocktail. Jiggelo, a new book from a group of Indianapolis gelatin shot connoisseurs, captures this trend and translates it into 90 pages of recipes, hints and resources for the creative and dedicated imbiber.
For the uninitiated, a gelatin shot is a shot-sized serving of gelatin where liquor is substituted for some of the water. As described in Jiggelo, taking the shot involves loosening the shot from its cup with a toothpick, a finger or whatever is handy and eating the gelatin, while trying not to look like a fool. The secret to the Jiggelo is that “You don’t sip it, you chew it. You don’t drink it, you do it.”
The creative team behind this tribute to all things jiggly includes freelance graphic designer Mary Breidenbach, award-winning writer and former NUVO A&E Editor Sharon L. Calhoon and her recipe-creating son Barrett J. Calhoon. The inspiration for the book came from a dry erase board covered in recipes from a “back to college” party Barrett had recently thrown. Nearly two years later, the book is a reality.
Last Saturday, the book was unveiled at what one guest described as a “classic soiree” at Barrett’s home. All of the ingredients were there: brie, sushi and other finger food, “swankilicious” music from crooners like Frank Sinatra, beautiful women in black dresses and charming conversation. But, like the book, the party introduced the gelatin shot to the mature party scene. Brought around by the hosts on silver trays, the shots were treated more as hors d’oeuvres than drinks and the focus was more on the individual taste and experience of the drink rather than the alcohol inside.
Designer Breidenbach said that the trio took the theme of maturation and built the book around it, virtually recreating the story of growing up. The chapters follow life from “Old School” to “Our Must Desserts,” paralleling stages of life with aptly-named drinks and accompanying vintage photographs. Breidenbach chose the classic photographs to illustrate the re-invention of classic drinks. “So you have this drink that you want to see in a new light” Breidenbach said. “Old photos are familiar. Putting a drink in their hand is seeing it in a new way. It’s taking it from college format to a more complicated and mature format.”
Because gelatin desserts are marketed heavily towards children, some activists are afraid that drinks that look and often taste like their non-alcoholic counterparts may be confusing and dangerous. In 1999, Ohio friends and entrepreneurs Brian Pearson and Nick Costanzo developed “Zippers,” the first commercially-available gelatin shots. Although clearly labeled and sold as a 24-proof alcoholic beverage, these shots are sold in packaging that resembles their non-alcoholic counterparts.
This has led to a call for a significant change in the packaging and marketing of this product by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and by Hope Taft, the wife of Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. In Connecticut, a bill has been introduced to prevent bars from offering gelatin shots. Proponents of this measure claim that these drinks promote excessive and underage drinking.
The authors of Jiggelo realized from the beginning that this book would inevitably appeal to young drinkers. “Everyone knows that the audience for Jell-O shots is young drinkers,” Sharon Calhoon said. “That’s probably why there aren’t many books out there.” The team tried to counteract any negative repercussions by balancing their young, hip and edgy tone with an emphasis on responsible drinking.
Along with clear and emphatic reminders to always drink responsibly, the book recommends serving these drinks in 1-ounce disposable soufflé cups, which makes each shot less than one serving of alcohol. As Sharon Calhoon pointed out, the less alcohol in each shot, the more shots and the more flavors — and therefore the more fun — each guest can have before getting drunk.
A sober outlook on drinking didn’t translate to sober writing, however. Jiggelo remains edgy and youthful, pulling in quotes from movies and celebrities and placing gelatin shots into the photos and images of the past. Sharon Calhoon said that in her writing she would constantly think back to her audience, which she jokingly described as “young, smart people, or those who wish they were.”
The drinks featured at Saturday’s party — all of which are included in the book — highlighted the startling versatility of the new, more mature gelatin shot. They ranged from the lemony “Alliteration” (lemon gelatin and citron vodka) to the complexly layered “Summit” (think Neopolitan ice cream) to the truly odd “Drunken Donuts” (gelled coffee topped with a donut hole). These drinks, which go far beyond the college gelatin and vodka version, are all original creations by the book’s mixologist, Barrett Calhoon.
The group worked together to create the book’s structure and divide it into sections; Barrett Calhoon’s job was to create drinks which related to each section — a job requiring a lot of trial, error and testing. “I learned really quickly not to use a blender,” Barrett said. “It foams up pretty bad.” Other lessons learned include the difficulty of masking the flavor of Goldschlager and that paper cups weep and leak, leading to big messes in the refrigerator and ruined shots.
All of this hard-earned knowledge went straight into the book. The final product is as informative and compelling as it is beautiful — as much a party waiting to happen as an eye-catching coffee table fixture.
Jiggelo; Inventive Gelatin Shots for Creative Imbibers can be found at Chelsea’s, Barnes and Noble, Borders Books & Music and on Amazon.com; $12.95.