Jiggle All the Way: Gingerbread Bourbon Jellies

November 19, 2022

An Old Fashioned Recipe Combining Old Fashioned Traditions

Bourbon. Gelatin. Gingerbread men. Three staples of the American holiday table, now come together – literally. A family challenge, a touch of history, and a little lesson from mom, helped meld these three unlikely, culinary, Christmas components into one. 

My mother is a terrible cook. I have the authority to make this claim, having undergone thorough, intensive research over a span of eighteen years, tasting her two culinary areas of expertise: burnt and leftovers. My mother is also the loveliest person, and her genuine kindness, gracious humor and energy far outweigh her shortcomings in the kitchen. Her cooking fails have since become a long-standing joke in the family, which came up again recently. 

My brothers and I thought it would be fun to have a competitive family cook-off for a holiday gathering. Mom totally wanted in. At first she rose to the challenge with gusto, practicing new dishes at home in the weeks leading up to the holidays. After enough triggers of her smoke alarm, she proclaimed with her undying sense of humor that she should quit trying to make something good and would instead concoct the grossest dish she could think of for her entry. Ideas sprang to her, drawing on the dinner time horrors of my childhood–ham loaf, cornflake encrusted chicken–until she settled on the most infamous of all…Jell-O salad. 

Truly, it seems fitting. Some jiggly concoction of gelatinous delight is still a standard menu item for most American holiday meals. ‘Tis the season of recycling family recipes from generations past. If any of your family lived in or around the 1950s, Jell-O joined the ranks. The elaborate, colorful food sculptures were befitting of the postwar era. They represented the rage of modern, space age amenities, while being polished and indicative of prosperity.  

In considering other holiday staples, Bourbon stands just as proud. It belongs in the category of winter fare, the way it warms us from the inside. Its rich array of flavors – think caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, pecan – perfectly pair with the season. And let’s not forget the crucial part it plays in eggnog and hot toddies. Like Jell-O, Bourbon for Christmas gives another nod to mid-century kitchens. The atomic age was flooded with cheerful Bourbon advertisements for Christmas time. Perhaps the most delightfully nostalgic one was a print ad, graced with the eternally handsome face of Sean Connery. The caption read:

The gift is distinctive. 

The season is merry. 

The man is Sean Connery. 

The Bourbon is Jim Beam. 

As iconic as that leading man was, and will always be, perhaps the most prominent man this time of year is – the gingerbread man. Gingerbread itself has been around for over a thousand years. How-the-heck little people-shaped versions of it made its way into a Christmas cooking tradition is about as foggy as the night of Rudolph’s debut. But, whatever, it somehow did, creating childhood memories, as we awkwardly decorated them in icing, to give them life. 

With these holiday go-tos, I considered my family cook-off entry. Being in the Bourbon business, my potluck contribution is generally a cocktail. I felt a bit stumped as to what I could make. When it comes to cooking, I’m not bad, but admittedly I rely heavily on HelloFresh and tuna sandwiches. So I’m taking a lesson from mom. Why try to be something I’m not? Be who you are. Cook what you want to cook. Gelatinize what you want to gelatinize. 

My cook-off entry will be an Old Fashioned cocktail turned into a jelly and cut into gingerbread men. Now that’s what I call festive. 

Gingerbread Bourbon Jellies


2 cups Kentucky Bourbon of choice

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

4 packets unflavored gelatin (about 0.5 ounce each)

Cocktail bitters

Cocktail cherries


Make simple syrup – combine 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water in a pot and heat on medium-high, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to come almost to a boil, then remove from heat and stir to ensure all granules are dissolved. 

Pour 2 cups of Kentucky Bourbon into a mixing bowl (preferably the groovy, retro one you swiped from your ex after breaking up, because you deserved to have it instead). Add 32 dashes of cocktail bitters. Sprinkle contents lightly over the Bourbon and bitters, allowing it to dissolve.

Pour 2 cups of the simple syrup into a saucepan and bring to a boil (throw the rest into an Old Fashioned to enjoy promptly). As soon as it boils, remove from heat and pour into the bowl with the other ingredients, stirring continuously until the gelatin granules have dissolved. 

Pour into a greased or non-stick baking pan. Drop cocktail cherries into the pans, spacing them out to allow one per gingerbread man shape. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

Once the gelatin has set, remove the pan from the refrigerator. Briefly dip the bottom of the pan in a bath of warm water (do not submerge) for a few seconds to allow the outer layer to warm up and remove more easily from the pan. Warming too long will cause the jelly to melt. 

Quickly flip the sheet of jelly onto a cutting board. Cut out gingerbread man shapes with a cookie cutter, placing the cutter so it centers around a cocktail cherry. Discard the jelly remnants into a bowl, but don’t eat it all in one sitting–please eat responsibly!

Serve and enjoy the looks of your friend’s and family’s faces as their minds are blown, biting into a family, holiday, gelatin shape – that tastes exactly like an Old Fashioned!

headshot of writer Aften Locken

About Aften Locken

Aften Locken is a certified Executive Bourbon Steward, a graduate of Tim Knittel’s Kentucky Bourbon School year-long program, a master mixologist, international tourism entrepreneur, bar manager and professional Bourbon single barrel selector plus has been training with Distilled Living for the past two years.

About Distilled Living

Distilled Living provides Bourbon education and sensory training for individuals, restaurant and bar staff & for corporate and fundraising events.

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