Jennifer Randell-Collins is a South Carolina success story - and a delicious one. The native of Mount Sterling, Ky., came to Columbia to play basketball at USC for then-coach Nancy Wilson nearly two decades ago; now she's helping provide other enjoyment for her adopted state and its visitors.
It's "alcohol ice cream," and if that sounds like too good a combination to be true - well, it's real, and available at more than 200 outlets across the state.
"Right now we're focusing on growth in South Carolina," says Randell-Collins, CEO of JB's Pr%f, located in Columbia, which is producing a wide variety of ice cream flavors blended with bourbon, rum and moonshine. "But we're also looking at the international market. It's made in South Carolina, a South Carolina product, and we want to saturate the market."
After college, Randell-Collins returned to Kentucky, where in 2014 she met J.B. Langley, who had been working for 30 years to find a way to combine ice cream with full-strength spirits (especially Kentucky bourbons), not just cream liqueurs, which other companies had done.
"He took his grandmother's recipe (for ice cream), and they try to add bourbon to everything," she says. "He got it perfected and asked me to handle the business side. And South Carolina kept coming up as a business-friendly state."
She brought the company back to the SC Midlands when she relocated in Lexington, and the JB's Pr%f production facility opened in 2015. It's been a huge success, she says, starting in restaurants and now in retail outlets. "Once we released our first pints (around Thanksgiving 2015), we found out the first question was, ‘Where can I buy this?'" Randell-Collins says.
"Now we're in major retailers (the beer and wine side of Green's, Total Wine), but also 125 convenience stores. I didn't envision those, but I was very wrong. When you put the freezer near the cash register, you make it convenient for customers; they don't have to go to a package store."
The most popular flavors vary with the season. In winter, apple-pie moonshine and chocolate bourbon are big hits, while in summer peach rum and coconut rum take over. "The caramel moonshine and mocha moonshine are pretty much year-round," she says.
The product is "absolutely a (SC) tourism thing," Randell-Collins says. "This is the only place you can get real alcohol ice cream, which is different from anything else out there." JB's Pr%f is working with the SC Department of Agriculture on "something that'll play into South Carolina products," including sweet tea, peaches and blackberry options.
Randell-Collins, now an avid fan of the highly successful USC women's basketball team, sees a link between her former team and current business. "You focus on what you're really good at," she says, "and work to be the best."
What goes well with some alcohol ice cream? How about a cup of coffee - one that also features state-produced spirits?
That's the idea behind Copper Horse Distillery's line of coffees, whose beans are aged in barrels used to age their gin, bourbon and rum. "When you roast the beans, it burns off the alcohol and leaves the notes of the spirits in the coffee," says Richard Baker of Columbia's Copper Horse.
The distillery started its coffee line in March 2016 after "a lot of experiments: how much alcohol, how much time (in the barrels)," Baker said. Now, "the bourbon coffee, we can't keep in stock, and they're all selling well." The only "problem," Baker says, is where to sell the coffees. "It doesn't really fit in liquor stores, or in groceries." Currently the coffees are available at the distillery, and at Columbia package store Morganelli's.
The type products you can make using spirits are almost endless. Grill Marks restaurants in Columbia and Greenville feature "shake-tails," beer floats and their Beer Shake, all made using ice cream and either craft beer or liquor. SnoBar, "the original frozen cocktail", is available in locations all across the state, offering Mojita, Cosmopolitan and Margarita Popsicles and Grasshopper, Pink Squirrel and brandy Alexander ice creams.
Another sweet treat is at King of Pops at the Crooked Crown in Charleston, which offers Popsicles made with raspberry-lime vodka, prosecco, chamomile gin and other flavors. A truly unique product is adult cotton candy, a creation by instructor Michael Granata of Greenville's Culinary Institute of the Carolinas, made with alcohol-soaked sugar that is spun into the familiar confection.
There's also Karen Moran, who quit a 15-year career in advertising to move to Charleston and start a mobile bakery, Sweet Lulu's Bakery and Cocktail Caravan. "I decided I wanted to do something new, and it's been the best thing ever," Moran says.
Fans of her alcohol-tinged desserts - all made using spirits from Charleston's own Firefly Distillery - agree. "We make our own vanilla extract by soaking the vanilla beans in vodka for six months, and we use that in cookies, cakes, almost anything," Moran says. Other favorites are her strawberry pop tarts, made with Firefly peach cobbler liqueur, and a chocolate cupcake called the Drunken Sailor made with local craft beer.
"We wanted to do something different, so all our desserts come in Mason Jars," Moran says. "It's important to use local, organic ingredients, and Firefly was right down the street from my house."
Sweet Lulu's focuses on private events such as weddings, but Moran also takes her caravan to food festivals around Charleston. As if anyone needed another reason to attend one of those festivals, having a "boozy dessert" afterward isn't bad.