Is it wrong to make alcohol-flavored candy? I don’t mean champagne truffles, which taste nothing like champagne. I’m talking about the new “draft beer” Jelly Bellies, sample packs of which showed up in our office this week and taste “like beer that you’re chewing,” according to one of my braver colleagues.
The company says it’s a totally reasonable bean, although considering that past additions have included both “barf” and “baby wipes,” it’s hard to know what wouldn’t meet the company’s standards. Jelly Belly also says it’s not for kids. The beer-flavored beans are part of Jelly Belly’s efforts to appeal to dudes who, judging by food industry marketing tactics, are really worried that without constant vigilance, they will accidentally eat some kind of chick food and suffer the consequences forever.
These are jelly beans, and no one since Ronald Reagan has taken them seriously. But there is something tone-deaf about a candy company known for its realistic flavors going out of its way to add actual alcohol-flavor to its mix. Of course, jelly beans are for kids. How could they not be? Kids in general like fruit-flavored candies way more than adults do, and Jelly Belly markets via Disney and Harry Potter, not to mention stores designed to explode the brain of the 14-and-under set. If Mattel made a Fifty Shades of Grey Barbie and sold it alongside Barbie Princess Unicorn, it would raise similar questions.
Beer beans also don’t track with other instances of alcohol-ish candies. Wine- or bourbon-flavored ice cream is designed for adult palates and—this is important—priced accordingly. Other Jelly Belly flavors, such as piña colada and mai tai, are modeled after cocktails that taste like candy; removing the booze and making them chewy seems like a logical conclusion. But beer remains a beverage that almost every adult learns to like, largely because it comes by the keg. Couldn’t some flavors just not be a jelly bean?
The saving grace is that the beans, not unlike cheap beer, are pretty mediocre. They have a realistic vinegary smell of a dive bar in the morning. The flavor is blandly sweet, like something a gardener might use for slug bait. For kids, that’s actually a tough sell: They’re not better than sour cherry nor grosser than “stinky socks.” Dudes may feel differently.