Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Beer floats

Shortly after getting my first reliable internet connection back in nineteen mumble mumble, I discovered rec.food.drink.beer, the Usenet newsgroup about beer. It was my first glimpse of an unfamiliar world of American beer geeks with their odd jargon of "growlers", "craft beer", and writing "barleywine" without a space.

One of the more bizarre notions I encountered there was the concept of a beer float. It didn't sound very nice. At the time chocolate ice cream with stout was being recommended. So I tried it with Guinness.

It didn't work. The smooth creaminess of the ice-cream just made the Guinness seem watery and acidic. Since then I have not attempted another beer float.

Years later, Boak and Bailey, followed by Mark Dredge, pioneered beer floats in this country, to a mixed reception. "Load of shite" and "plain wrong" were among the expressions used.

It's received wisdom that beer floats need a rich, dark stout-type beer, possibly one involving smoke, coffee, or chocolate. I can see where this idea comes from. You don't want a very dry beer as the sugary ice-cream will make it appear acidic and thin. Nor will a maltier pale beer like a Bavarian Helles do the job. Even what's sweet in beer terms won't stand up to something really sweet like ice-cream.

What could we use instead of stout? Only something sweet and syrupy that can hold its own ... what about barley wine? But where's the contrast in that? Even the sweetest barley wine would be better replaced by real syrup, if its only purpose is to be even sweeter than the ice cream.

Hops are a no-no, says Mark in his post.

But hang on.

One of the simplest classic Italian desserts is a scoop of ice cream with an espresso poured over it. Coffee is bitter and aromatic ... hops are bitter and aromatic ... it's worth a try. Strong and hoppy should go just as well as strong and roasty.

I topped a small glass of BrewDog Hardcore IPA with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drinking it is ... well, at first it's like drinking Hardcore IPA through a collar of ice cream. But: what I like about this combination is that the ice cream doesn't melt into the beer, making it cloudy ... it melts into the foam, giving you a wonderful shaving-foam textured head that tastes of ice-cream and hops!

Better, though, is the scoop of ice-cream in a bowl with a spoon, with some IPA poured over it. There the malt flavours of the beer disappear and you're left with just the hops and the sharp tang of alcohol, as if you'd poured spirits in the bowl.

I wasn't expecting this to be so good, but there you are. Forget your stouts. The kind of beer that goes with ice cream is double IPA.


  1. Nice one! Maybe I've just never had a beer that's hoppy enough with ice cream in top!!

  2. I just can't bring myself to try this one. But then I never got soda floats either.

  3. I brewed a tart mixed berry beer at one stage and it made a very nice beer float, with a scoop of high quality vanilla. The tartness of the beer and the sweetness of the ice cream made a good counterpoint. If you could bring yourself to sacrifice some of this excellent beer, I would say Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus would do the job very well indeed.

  4. You know, we never actually got round to trying it. We just though it sounded interesting. We will do, though, at some point. It's got to be worth a go for the price of a tub of ice cream and a gottle of gear.