(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)
Back in December, I talked with you all about pairing beer and holiday cookies. It only seems appropriate that now, at the tale end of summer, I talk about pairing beer – and ICE CREAM!
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time (or tummy space) to go around to every ice cream shop in the area (we have so many good ones!) and try their tasty creations with our beer, but I can share with you what I’ve discovered through research as well as a few things I’ve picked up on from personal exploration.
The story goes that the original ice cream float was invented by Robert McCay Green in 1874 when he made the serendipitous decision to use ice cream in his sodas when he ran out of ice. Some of the most common varieties of ice cream floats are root beer floats, coke floats, and Boston Coolers; and in Australia and New Zealand ice cream floats are called “spiders”. Thanks to creative mixologists and at-home beer & ice cream lovers, beer floats have earned a spot in today’s culture.
As some of you may know, at the Stormcloud Pub we offer beer floats as a dessert option. Traditionally, beer floats are made with vanilla ice cream and a Porter, Stout, or bourbon barrel-aged beer. This is for a number of reasons, including the fact that visually it looks the most like a root beer float. Additionally, creamy vanilla flavors contrast well with roasty malts and works to tame the boozy burn present in some barrel-aged beer. I also found an article from Draft Magazine that points out the classic combination of vanilla and chocolate, commenting, “we never tire of the melty-milkshake-like duo of vanilla plopped into a rich chocolate stout.” If you are new to the whole beer float thing, I think this is a perfect place to start.
Are there other beer/ice cream flavor combinations to explore? You betcha! Certified Cicerone Marcus TenHarmsel says, “If you consider the basic principles for beer pairings- match strength with strength, find harmonies, and consider contrasting elements- ice cream can offer loads of fun pairings. Especially to the adventurous soul who is willing to make mistakes and try unusual things.”(Meewes).
Back in 2014, our Head Brewer Brian and Beer Educator Charla did some investigative work regarding beer and ice cream pairings. In an interview with MyNorth.com Brian shared that he thought combining beer and ice cream “would be disgusting.” According to the article, he was surprised with how well some of the combinations worked. He also shared that “in almost every pairing, the beer that went with the ice cream was a surprise. The thing is, when the pairing did not work, it really didn’t work, like you wanted to spit it out. But then you’d hit the one that worked, and it was like, Oh my gosh, that is really, really good!”
This week I went to visit our friends across the street at The Cool Spot and did a little taste testing of my own. These combos won’t be available in the pub, but if you’re craving a frosty treat and feeling adventurous, here are a few combinations I suggest trying at home:
Orange Sherbet with our 228 Tripel: This was definitely a combination that I didn’t see coming. It was pleasantly reminiscent of Triple Sec, which has made me wonder – if I also add some cranberry sorbet, would it taste like a Cosmopolitan? Looks like I have some more taste testing to do…
Lemon Cheesecake Bar Ice Cream with our Whiled Away® IPA: I absolutely LOVED this combination. Bitter, hoppy beers do well when paired with foods of equally strong flavors, and this ice cream does the trick. The lemon helps to highlight the gorgeous citrus notes in Whiled Away® while the graham cracker compliments the clean malt bill – and the sweet, tangy cream cheese cuts through the hop bitterness in the most delightful way.
Pistachio Almond Ice Cream with our B., Sirius Dubbel: Our B., Sirius Dubbel has the slightly sweet taste of brown caramel malt up front, which transitions to flavors reminiscent of dried stone fruit mid-palate, and ends with a distinctly dry finish. This combination seemed like a no-brainer – nuts are the perfect pairing with caramel sweetness and dried fruit. Trust me, even if you don’t like fruit cake, this fusion of flavors is one worth trying.
Michigan Pot Hole Ice Cream with our Rowed Hard Stout: Initially I was concerned that this combination was going to have too much going on, but soon discovered that it’s a match made in heaven. Rowed Hard has some sharp, bitter, roasty notes from the dark malt we use, and the rich, creamy sweetness of this fudge-filled dairy treat balances it out perfectly.
As a reminder, taste is subjective. You may find a combination that you absolutely love, but that others are less than thrilled about. To me, the best part of food and beer pairing is the journey – both trial and error and successes. My advice is to be willing to try all sorts of bold, unusual combinations, because you never know what wonderful tastes you could find. If you decide to do some ice cream exploring with craft beer, I’d love to hear about your delicious discoveries! In the words of craft beer, food, and travel writer Bryan M. Richards, “Remember it’s beer – so have fun!”
If the thought of putting ice cream in your beer is just too much for you, perhaps you would be more interested in putting beer in your ice cream. Ice cream companies across the country are working with local breweries to concoct beer-flavored ice cream. A few of my favorite that I’ve come across are Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver, Salt & Straw in Portland, and Frozen Pints in Atlanta. There are plenty of folks doing it right in Michigan as well, including Ice Box Brand in Muskegon and Furniture City Creamery in Grand Rapids. Are you more into DIY? The American Homebrewers Association published this articleon making your own beer ice cream.
John Steinbeck’s character Doc from Cannery Row thought, “a man with a beard, ordering a beer milkshake in a town where he wasn’t known – they might call the police.”
Don’t worry, folks – I won’t call the police if I hear you order a beer float!
“5 fantastic beer floats.” Draft Magazine, draftmag.com/5-fantastic-beer-floats/.
Richards, Bryan M. “How to Pair Beer with Desserts That Aren’t Chocolate.” CraftBeer.com, edited by Jess Baker, Brewers Association, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.craftbeer.com/beer-and-food/no-chocolate-no-problem-how-to-pair-beer-with-desserts-that-arent-chocolate.
Meewes, Veronica. “The Beer Float Guide That Will Transform Your Summer Drinking.” Food & Wine, Meredith Corporation, 20 June 2019, http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/drink/beer-float-guide-will-transform-your-summer-drinking.
Smith, Jeff. “Pairing Ice Cream and Microbrews, a Northern Michigan Brewer Advises.” MyNorth.com, 31 Oct. 2014, mynorth.com/2014/10/pairing-ice-cream-microbrews-northern-michigan-brewer-advises/.