“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Ogden Nash’s truism, famously quipped by a purple velvetclad Willy Wonka, is at once correct yet short on imagination. Liquor is quicker, yes – but why choose between them? Thanks the advent of liquored-up gummy candies, a new-ish fad and squishy paragon of our maximalist era, we no longer have to. Yes, children, we can have it all.
Drunken gummies first made the news last fall when high schoolers in Florida, New York and Nebraska began popping them in class, as a sneaky alternative to, say, swigging beer in the woods. More recently and legally, writers at Serious Eats engineered low- and high-brow versions for an office project, giving an enviable new definition to “drinking on the job.”
Tempted by the candies’ tinge of mischief, not to mention their on-the-go potential, I decided to try them at home. In over my head and without a sweet tooth to speak of, I recruited my friend Dan White, who is both a self-professed gummy expert and a crowd-pleasing bartender at The Apartment in the Jewelry District. For his part, Dan quickly staked populist claim on plain vodka and cornerstore sweets. For mine, I went the opposite route, and settled on a plan to mimic classic cocktails.
We tinkered, tested and came away with true hits and shocking misses. Particulars aside, all DIY boozy gummies involve the same, dead-simple core procedure. Step one, place the candies in a glass and submerge them in booze. Next, steep for 6-8 hours at room temperature, or 12-24 hours in the fridge. Third, drain the candies when fully plumped but not yet gone to pieces – which we’ll call the late-but-not-final-Elvis-stage. And finally, snack, but with caution. You’re in for a wallop.
Beyond those basics, three tips will ensure your optimal, drunken success. First and foremost, avoid brown liquor. All gambles with it met dreadful ends, whereas most clear spirits performed admirably. Namely, gin, vodka, light rum, light tequila and any sparkling white wines are fair game – but avoid flat wines, which proved too astringent.
Tip number two: Use mediocre booze. Dan’s bartending coterie unanimously endorsed using the cheapest liquor available, and they’re right to an extent. Certainly, top-shelf booze should meet better ends. All the same, rotgut’s junkiness only amplifies once concentrated, no matter how cute and sweet the package. It’s best to find happy ground in the middle.
And the final tip: Gummies balloon in booze, and quite shockingly so to anyone who left basic science behind in middle school. (Humbly, I raise my hand on behalf of all arts majors.) Give the gummies more space and more liquor than you expect they’ll need – which, come to think of it, doubles as sound life advice.
In the end, Dan was quite pleased with his elemental gummies and offered an ingenious tip: Turn the steeping alcohol into a shooter once it’s strained. My cocktail strivings were spotty at best, but several surprisingly delicious wins emerged: Aviation Bears (gin, maraschino liqueur and lemon gummies), Negroni Bears (gin, Campari and lemon gummies), Tequila Strawberries (silver tequila and strawberry gummies) and Bellini Rings (prosecco and peach gummies).
Lacking a DIY streak? A Jersey-based startup by the name of Rebel Gummies will do the dirty work for you. Co-owned by Jillian Stokes and Carl Ziznewski, the company took root last Christmas when Jillian gave Carl, her fiancée, a molecular gastronomy kit – and, rather than toy with foams, Carl trained his attention on semi-solid cocktails. It’s all very playful and kitschy, which will earn sneers in some camps just as surely as it earns grins in others. But forget the sneerers. This summer has been brutal enough without added pessimism; let’s gather our grins as we may.