I recently had the opportunity to produce Jello Shots and pre-mixed cocktails for an event and I found the process surprisingly interesting – as so many things are actually interesting when you explore them. The truly interesting thing for me was the parallel between efficient production of beverage things and the learnings I had in college in a manufacturing class. Pretty much everything I learned regarding an efficient manufacturing workflow proved true.
And I will admit that a big part of why I am writing this down is to document the assembly line process – for the next damn time …
Issue: Taster Needed
I am not a drinker so all of this was done in conjunction with my Shiny wife, Shelley. Many thanks to her since I could not have done this without her. As with any type of cooking, tasting is crucial to the final product. She nobly bore up to this challenge.
This Is Chemistry / Engineering Not Craft Cocktails
One of the things that I realized when I began this was that this was essentially chemistry and engineering not craft cocktails. While I made the joke online that I was making “Small Batch Artisan Jello Shots”, this was mostly for the lulz. When you are producing 180 in a morning, well, you aren’t artisan.
Given that we are an inclusive organization, I found it necessary to also produce sugar free jello cocktails. The crazy thing about sugar free jello is that while a standard jello packet is 3 ounces, the sugar free is about 0.3 ounces – small enough that you may actually think that the sugar free isn’t sweetened. Rest assured that is sweet. It also apparently has a distinctly chemical after taste so your desire to taste them may vary.
The Importance of the Assembly Line
The since most important thing is that this is an assembly line and you have to get that line and flow exactly correct. Here is a picture of the final line:
Here are the things you need:
- The small solo cups, with lids, for making the shots. Here’s how to calculate what you need - each 3 oz pack of jello makes roughly 15 decently sized Jell-O shots. So if you want to make 180 like I did that means 180 / 15 or 12 packs of jello. Some cups will break or not seal well so you want to have some extra. Whatever you do, if you can avoid it, DO NOT buy multiple brands. If you buy multiple brands then you will find that there are stacking issues due to there being size issues and that the list won’t be interchangeable. Here is the pro tip if you buy multiple brands – put the lids on the sheet tray with the shots. Crude Analytics such as it was. Storing Lids with the Shots
- A sharpie marker for labeling S or SF (sugared or sugar free).
- Flat sheet trays or rimmed cookie sheets; you will generally get about 15 to 17 shots per batch so you need sheets large enough for them. Picture
- A stand mixer with the whisk attachment
- A large pot for boiling water
- A large bowl for storing cold water; what I did was make a big bowl of ice water.
- Jello of various colors
- A good 4 cup measuring cup preferably with a look down scale to make measuring easier. Oxco is excellent. You use this for the hot water.
- A good two cup measuring cup for the cold water. Again one with the look down scale. And again Oxco.
- A dipper for pouring from the boiling water into the 4 cup measuring cup; A one cup measuring cup is excellent for this.
- A dipper for pouring from the cold water into the 2 cup measuring cup. A one cup measuring cup is excellent for this.
Here is the overall flow:
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Make the ice water.
- Add the Jello to the stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
- Add the boiling water to the mixer and turn it on.
- Add the cold water and turn it on.
- Add the vodka and turn it on.
- Fill a measuring cup with the mix.
- Fill the Jell-O shots.
- Chill the Jell-O shots.
Here are the specific instructions that you need to follow:
- Clear space in the fridge for as many trays as you plan to make. In my case, since this was first time in a while, I had to scramble to make space since I didn’t know how many sheets I would end up with. Don’t be me – do the math! Or realize that you only own N sheet trays and that’s the maximum amount of space you need to clear.
- Add a 3 oz packet of jello to the bowl of the stand mixer and attach the whisk attachment.
- Make a large bowl of ice water. Put your dipper next to it. Put your four cup measuring cup next to it.
- Start a large pot of water boiling. Put your dipper next to it. Put your two cup measuring cup next to it. By the time the water boils the ice water will be cold.
- Set the vodka next to the cold water.
- Set out a sheet tray with 17 cups laid out on it. Place the lids also on the sheet tray.
- Use the dipper to add 2 cups of water to the 4 cup measuring cup.
- Add 2 cups of hot water to the mixer and set it on low. You want to mix it for 2 minutes and the easiest way to do this is to use an Alexa i.e. “Alexa set a 2 minute timer”. Or just use your phone.
- Use the cold water dipper to add 1/2 cup of cold water to the 2 cup measuring cup.
- Add 1/2 cup of vodka to the 2 cup measuring cup.
- Add the water plus vodka to the mixer and let it mix briefly.
- Pour from the stand mixer bowl into the measuring cup you have with the best spout – for me this was the 4 cup oxco. This is how you fill the individual Jell-O shots so pourability really, really matters.
- Fill each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full. If this is a sugar free tray and you are making both then label at least one lid so you know what is on the tray.
- Move the tray to the fridge. Repeat the process.
And here is the assembly line about to swing into action:
180 Jell-O shots can be stored in one medium and two small coolers.
A pre-mix cocktail is when you make a large batch of cocktails for an event so you can simply fill a glass from a cooler instead of mixing them one at a time.
My wife loves Margaritas and here is the individual recipe:
- 1 shot tequila
- 1 shot triple sec or other orange liquor (based on price generally)
- 1/2 shot lime juice, kroger brand
And here is a recipe that fills a standard 1800 Tequila bottle:
- 1 1/2 cups lime juice
- 3 cups Tequila
- 3 cups Triple Sec
This almost exactly fills the bottle and makes what I am told is a lovely Margarita. I use 1800 bottles because they seal excellently and we have a number of empties (“Dead Soldoier; Salute!”).
Here is the assembly line for premix margaritas. Note the towel on the bar to capture drips and the left to right order of ingredients along with 1800 bottles to store the output.
Premix Giggle Juice aka Lemon Drop Martinis
Another cocktail that I like to mix at scale are Lemon Drop Martinis aka “Giggle Juice”. Here’s the individual recipe:
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
The wrinkle in this recipe is figuring out that 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice maps to 1 oz lemon juice. So here’s a recipe for 8 Lemon Drops (I can’t remember of this fills an 1800 bottle or if it needed to be doubled to do that; experiment in the interests of Science!).
- 16 oz vodka
- 8 oz simple syrup
- 8 oz lemon juice, Kroger brand
Note: Wash the 1800 bottle first to get rid of the tequila taste.
Premix Assembly Line
Shown below is the premix assembly line for marg
My thank you goes out to:
- Shelley Johnson - Lead Taster, Encouragement and All the Love
- Lisa Meese - Concept validation and Giggle Juice consumption
- Lexi Taylor - Teaching me about sugar free jello shots
- Tami Coxen - For illustrating the quality of craft cocktails when I briefly got my wife drinks from Tami once upon a time
- Deanna Sjolander - For writing encouragement