By Mike Danahey The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) An Illinois Chef has created a way to turn just about any booze into a frozen (usually) non-dairy treat that resembles ice cream -- something he's calling Below Zero 21 & Over Alcohol Scoops, with the tagline "Lick Your Liquor."
The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill. Chef and caterer Will Rogers of Huntley has invented something that's been keeping clients who enjoy adult beverages cool during hot weather -- or any time of year for that matter.
About three years ago, Rogers came up with a way to turn just about any booze into a frozen (usually) non-dairy treat that resembles ice cream -- something he's calling Below Zero 21 & Over Alcohol Scoops, with the tagline "Lick Your Liquor."
"It's solid, scoopable alcohol," Rogers said. "It works with any beer, wine or shot."
Rogers said the idea for Below Zero early came to him early this decade when he was making a caffeinated ice cream that contained the equivalent of three shots of espresso. It took him from 2011 to 2013 to perfect the process for making the concoctions.
Rogers said that process involves a customized, basic KitchenAid blender, a machine that allows him to use liquid nitrogen and a gel on which he has a patent. The concoctions are made on-site.
"It retains the alcohol. That's the fun part," Rogers said.
Rogers and his wife, Dawn, used to operate Chocolate People Interactive Desserts, a company that creates chocolate fountains for weddings and other social gatherings. They also had Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream and Clueless in the Kitchen, a cooking school, both of which were in Square Barn Plaza off Algonquin Road in Algonquin.
But issues with the center at one time holding a massage parlor where prostitution arrests were made led to Rogers and other businesses getting out of their leases. So Rogers went back to his roots as a caterer with WDS Dessert Stations (www.wdsdesserts.com) which, in addition to Below Zero, offers a variety of chocolate fountains, a Wonka-like confectionery, bake shop, frozen desserts and s'mores.
"Will's a pretty creative guy who's come up with some interesting stuff over the years," Mark Khayat, owner of Austin's Saloon & Eatery in Libertyville said.
So when Rogers pitched having Below Zero beverages set-up at his establishment, Khayat said, "I thought we'd at least test it. It wound up people would stand in line for it."
So far, Khayat said he's offered Below Zero on about 20 occasions, initially for free, and in conjunction with concerts and festivals. Now, when he offers it, he charges $7.50 for a scoop of Below Zero on an ice cream cone -- or about what some mixed drinks go for at many places.
Troy Woodrow used to work for a big liquor brand and now is CEO of his own Apollo Beverage, an Ohio-based business he launched five months ago.
Woodrow said he learned of Rogers' Below Zero while in Wisconsin two years ago and listening to Rogers being interviewed on a Kenosha station. He's used the lickable liquor treats at about a dozen events so far, and helped Rogers network with others, including Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which also caters big events and sports arenas.
"There are a lot of potential places for Below Zero," Rogers said. "It's great for events, and women seem to like it."
Michele Grossman, Director of Sales for Catering by Michaels in Morton Grove said she's worked with Rogers over the years and has been impressed with his line of offerings and how unique they are, particularly the Below Zero scoops.
Grossman said she has used Below Zero at about 40 events, including parties of her own, where the guests were wowed with the chilly treat.
"This could really put Will on the map. He's a genius," Grossman said.
So far, Rogers said Below Zero has taken him to myriad events, including weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, festivals and concerts, including a set-up backstage at the recent Guns N' Roses show at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Below Zero also was featured on the Discovery Channel's "Billy Bob's Gags to Riches" in 2014.
For those who would like to have Below Zero at their own gathering, Rogers said he provides staff and equipment for $750, so he suggested something where there will be 100 or more guests.
Rogers said he has 15 set-ups that allow for trained staff to make the Below Zero treats on-site. He's also exploring ways to bring more set-ups like he has to the market and is looking at ways to make the Below Zero products available as packaged frozen treats.
As for what seems to work best in a Below Zero beverage, Grossman mentioned watermelon and lemonade vodkas as well as margaritas. Khayat added Budweiser's Lime-A-Rita and RumChata to the list. And, being partial to cream drinks, Woodrow said the Below Zero process works well with his product line that is set to launch in August and that includes Woody's Northwoods Bourbon, Honey and Maple Creams.
Rogers noted wines, and especially sangria, work well with Below Zero, as do root beer-flavored liquors. In fact, most forms of potent potables do the trick, but for one in particular.
"IPA's are the worst," Rogers said.