FROM THE CREATOR’S BASEMENT TO DOZENS OF GARDEN STATE LIQUOR STORES (AND COUNTING), THIS NEW JUNGLE JUICE BRAND IS SHAKING UP THE PRE MADE COCKTAIL WORLD IN THE MOST DELICIOUS OF WAYS
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
It was the mid-2010s, and booming nightlife pro Tim Gillen found himself at a professional crossroads. By all metrics, the born and raised Jersey boy was living the dream he had envisioned since childhood. As the bar operations manager for one of Atlantic City’s hottest nightlife destinations, Gillen had landed his fantasy position, working his way up from barback at a boardwalk cantina as a teenager to eventually leading a world famous venue in less than ten years, even working for a childhood idol. But the 80 hour work weeks and erratic hours were grueling, keeping him from family, friends, and life events, and Gillen made the difficult decision to trade Kanye concerts and Dom Perignon for a more stable job closer to home.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be in the nightlife business,” said Gillen, who even enjoyed a stint as a I professional DJ before climbing ranks at Atlantic City casinos. “I had this whole plan for myself, but when I got there I didn’t know if I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. It was an amazing job, and I learned a lot, but I wanted work life balance. It wasn’t just about the money for me. I needed to take a step back to figure out my next move, so I took a job with Verizon Wireless for what I thought would be six months.”
Six months turned into four years, but the hungry young entrepreneur was determined not to rush into a new venture arbitrarily. He still felt a connection to the professional nightlife scene but didn’t want to return to the odd and arduous hours. Then one day in early 2017, his next move became clear.
“I think once in everyone’s lifetime they have a day where the lightbulb goes off, and everything just clicks,” he explained. “For me, that day was when the idea for Jerzey Jungle Juice hit me.”
In college, Gillen hosted numerous parties, and he always served his proprietary jungle juice a fruit punch based cocktail typically concocted for large crowds that became locally famous. “I realized that no one had ever bottled jungle juice before.”
He continued: “I had seen the success of all of the malt based liquor on the market. It was popular, but honestly it didn’t taste great. When I drink an alcoholic drink, I want it to taste good. I realized if I could make a pre made beverage that people actually enjoy drinking, it would set me apart from the competition, because that’s something the market was lacking.”
The concept of Jerzey Jungle Juice was officially born, and from there, Gillen moved full steam ahead. Research began in early 2017, and though his college recipe had already been beta tested for success several times, he was quickly schooled in the lessons of launching a business. Back end paperwork, licensing, and formulating Gillen’s college concoction into a legal bottle recipe filled three years, but in fall 2020, all of the entrepreneur’s painstaking work came to ceremonious fruition at the juice’s bottling facility, Red Boot Distillery, in Iowa.
“One of my life’s greatest accomplishments was going to Iowa to do my first bottle run. Seeing the factory workers bottle my drink and realizing this was real, that’s when it really hit me. I was blown away watching a huge factory of people making a drink that was my creation in college.”
Jerzey Jungle Juice is made with grain alcohol pricier than malt, but that’s what makes it authentic, explained the founder. It’s currently offered in one flavor traditional fruit punch with additional expressions in the pipeline. While Gillen and his team share ample recipe inspiration on the web and social channels, the founder recommends first timers opt for a classic juice on the rocks, the way he drank it in college.
“We really wanted the perfect amount of alcohol to sweet balance,” he said. “Our goal is to be the number one party drink. Everyone knows what jungle juice is; we took that concept and made a modern day bottled version of the popular college drink everyone knows and loves. The best jungle juice is made in Jersey.”
Years of research and development taught Gillen that assembling the right team was paramount. His squad consists of a company accountant, Gillen’s mother Deborah; part time assistant Lexi Curtis; insurance agent and “most important member of the team” Jim Baumann; advertising, campaign, and brand awareness manager Nicholas Marraro; website creator and manager Li Wang; and content creators and social media powerhouses Scott Christie and Joe Mannarino from Xinema Media.
“[Christie and Mannarino are] two of the most talented individuals on the team,” effused Gillen. “They are the guys that really bring Jerzey Jungle Juice to life. They handle all creative content for social media and advertising. Social media pictures, videos, commercials, billboards, magazine ads, and signs for liquor stores are all 100% originally created by them. We have been told we have some of the best liquor marketing out there, especially for a smaller company. These are the guys responsible.”
The team doesn’t end there, explained Gillen, noting his friends, family, and the local community are all unofficial partners and promoters and devoted fans.
“My family and friends are my biggest supporters, hyping up my business, always rocking Jerzey Jungle merch, and telling people about the drink and the company. I would not be here without all their support. Especially my parents they might not know a lot about the alcohol business but they have helped and supported my dreams and visions every step of the way and are huge fans of Jerzey Jungle Juice.”
The Juice is now in 50 liquor stores throughout the Garden State, with new pickups every week. The founder chose an unconventional method for getting his spirit on shelves. Rather than use distributors to pitch his brand, Gillen assumed this role, traveling from meeting to meeting with samples in his car and passion as his driving force. Eventually the owner plans on hiring national distributors, with sights set on local bars and clubs and soon the rest of the country.
“Previous employers would always tell me to drink the company Kool Aid,” he added with a laugh. “Now the only Kool Aid I drink is my own.”
Jerzey Jungle Juice
jerzeyjungle.com / social media @jerzeyjungle