Joe Sixpack: Mixing beer and ice cream: Hope floats

Posted: July 03, 2009

MIXING BEER and ice cream seems like a totally gross idea that should offend everyone. It is a disservice to two perfectly fine indulgences, akin to mixing baseball and sex. There is no reason to believe they might be consenting partners.

Indeed, no less an authority than the Weekly World News reported on April 11, 1989, that beer floats were among "the world's weirdest snacks," on a "bizarre" list that included liverwurst-and-grape-jelly sandwiches.

The tabloid's culinary warnings notwithstanding, I'm obliged to report that pouring beer into ice cream does not disturb the natural order.

I spent a couple of sticky nights recently getting overly familiar with the two, and discovered that ice cream and beer - well, let's just call them beer floats - are nothing less than a transcendent melding of childhood joy and adult hedonism. It's creamy goodness meets intoxicating vice.

Now, I can't make any claims of invention. A number of restaurants in the area and across the country offer some variation of beer-and-ice cream, from the Young's Double Chocolate Stout float at Washington, D.C.'s RFD to the Lindemans Framboise shake at the Yard House chain in Southern California.

At the beer-centric Spinnerstown Hotel (just off the Quakertown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike), the beer floats vary depending on the season and the tap list. Owner John Dale is fond of one made with Southern Tier Mokah and coffee ice cream.

Admittedly, beer floats are for those with a sweet tooth. I tried but couldn't find a good match for India pale ale or pilsner; they are simply too hoppy for this sugary treat.

Likewise, fruit-flavored ice cream and sorbet are a bit dicey. I tried pouring Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat over a scoop of cherry-flavored Italian water ice - a natural combo, I thought - and it turned into an unspeakably tart slush.

The ingredient you're after is malt, which can be sweet or bitter or both. Pouring a sweet, strong German doppelbock like Ayinger Celebrator over vanilla ice cream is akin to a butterscotch sundae. If you crack open a bottle of Rogue Mocha Porter (Oregon) with dark-roasted malts, we're talking chocolate syrup. Pour them both, add a maraschino cherry, and you've got a Dusty Road.

Experimentation is fun. Set up a half-dozen different styles, splash them over separate scoops of vanilla ice cream and give them a try. Then try the same beer over butter pecan.

Vary the ratios, too. I combined equal parts of Gen. Lafayette Chocolate Thunder porter with vanilla and wound up with the kind of sweet, creamy chocolate shake that they might serve at Baskin-Robbins. Adding another part porter toned down the sugar and the beer's roasted malt bitterness emerged; you couldn't order this one without proper ID.

There will be some losers. No big deal - that's why they invented kitchen drains.

Or play it safe and stick with Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, a dark, rich brew that seems half ale and half dessert condiment. The stout contains no actual cacao and instead earns its stripes with a plentiful mix of deeply roasted chocolate malt that is as dark and bitter as the real thing. I tried it on everything from no-fat/sugar-free chocolate to Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, and it rocked every time.

If you're ambitious, you can freeze your own beer-flavored ice cream. There are a bunch of recipes on the Internet, but they're basically the same: simmer beer and brown sugar until its volume is reduced by about half, cool the mix, then add it to your favorite ice-cream recipe.

Warning: Do not simply dump cold beer into your ice cream maker. Because it's mostly water, it will crystallize and won't properly mix with the other ingredients. This is not only unpalatable, it may explain the genetic mishap surrounding the birth - as reported in the same edition of Weekly World News that reported all those unappetizing snacks - of Frogboy, the human tadpole. *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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