Whatever Floats Your Beer
Expert Advice

Image: Land Grant Brewing Company

It’s an adult decadent treat that throws back to cool, creamy childhood sensations. But choose your ingredients wisely.

When you mention mixing beer with ice cream, you get one of two reactions—a variation of “Why ruin two good things?” or a rekindled delightful moment of childhood followed by, “Oh, like a root beer float!” Pint for pint, the combination stirs curiosity, and breweries and creameries have noticed. Now they’re playing off one another, dabbling with flavors, hosting pairing events, and crafting products reminiscent of each other.

Dipping into Each Other’s Vats

Take Bloomfield, Connecticut’s Back East Brewing Company, for example. It crafted a juicy New England IPA using Citra hops for a fundraiser in September 2016 that unintentionally dipped into the ice cream realm. “One of our production staff thought it tasted like an orange Creamsicle and thought the name Ice Cream Man would be a perfect fit,” explains cofounder Tony Karlowicz. Ice Cream Man was meant to be a one-time, one-tap brew, but it was a huge success and still is.

“We can’t brew enough to keep up with demand, even though so far this year, we’ve brewed over 70,000 4-packs of cans,” Karlowicz says. Double Scoop—Ice Cream Man’s doubled-up sibling—was introduced in August 2019, and has also become a huge hit. Admittedly, Karlowicz says, he hasn’t sold either in beer floats, “although it is something we plan to try.”

Meanwhile, over in the craft ice cream industry, Atlanta-based Frozen Pints is a boutique creamery making craft-beer ice cream. According to its website, it scoops up seasonal flavors such as Pumpkin Ale or Cinnamon Espresso Stout. Year-round, it packages Peach Lambic, Honey IPA, Brown Ale Chip, Vanilla Bock, and Malted Milk Chocolate Stout. The beer-focused ice cream provides the perfect way to have your brew and eat your ice cream too. Wondering if the creamy pints contain alcohol? Yes, but at a far lower ABV (1%–3.2%) than traditional beer.

Mixing and Matching

The flavor line-up at Frozen Pints gives an indication of flavors that work well together, but with so many beer styles and ice cream flavors to choose from, the combinations seem endless. David Wren, a Richmond, Virginia-based certified beer cicerone for the past seven years, suggests mixing most any bourbon barrel stout with vanilla ice cream. He knows some beer enthusiasts might opt for a chocolatey milk stout, but, he says, “I imagine the combo of sweet creamy ice cream with sweet creamy beer would be a little cloying for most. A bourbon barrel stout would work well because it has the richness and body to stand up to rich ice cream, but the slight bitterness and bourbon flavor would curb some of the sweetness.

“If you wanted to get a little wild with it, a pairing of a fruity sour ale with light sherbet might taste great too. Could get a fruity, tangy, sweet, sour thing going on,” Wren adds. Lindemans Brewery out of Belgium is his go-to for a fruity sour.

At Independent Bar in St. Petersburg, Florida, Dan Schmidt has organized three ice creambeer pairings. He has found that the obvious pairings work well: chocolates with stouts and porters, and fruits with fruity ales. “The most challenging to pair were the IPAs, due to their distinctive bitterness. I usually tried to balance that with less sweet options. Tropical flavors and citrus flavors worked the best with IPAs,” he says.

“The most well received were always the pairings with sour ales. I think it was because of the unexpected deliciousness—a balance of sweet and sour. A previous pairing favorite was a roasted cherry and goat-cheese ice cream with ‘balsamicky’ Flemish red ale,” he adds.

Image: Back East Brewing Company

Breweries Raising the (Ice Cream) Bar

Several breweries, among them Frogg Brewing in Marlborough, New Hampshire, and Land-Grant Brewing Company, in Columbus, Ohio, have hosted beer-ice cream pairings to test what goes well together. Frogg collaborated with nearby Walpole Creamery, an award-winning ice cream producer with regional distribution. Land-Grant worked with neighbor Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, an artisanal creamery with national distribution.

The events proved so successful that in early July, Frogg began selling Walpole Creamery ice cream from its brewery. At last year’s event, they had paired 10 ice creams with 10 different beers. “We hope to do this again one weekend soon,” says Stephanie Guitard, one of Frogg’s owners. “However, now anyone can ask for a scoop of ice cream with their beer.”

One of the beer floats that Frogg’s customers especially like (as does Guitard) is Java Frogg Stout with Tahitian Vanilla, where the creamy vanilla complements the espresso in the stout. Her second favorite is Mudd Frogg Porter with Sweet Cream, where the sweet cream teases out the chocolate in the brown porter.

Meanwhile, Land-Grant works closely with Jeni’s to develop unique complementary brews. “To decide what pairs best, we join our teams together to sample beers and ice cream to figure out which flavors make that magic happen when combining the two,” shares Tony Cipriani with Land-Grant. He says the brewery has made two beers with Jeni’s and is planning a third for this fall. “We brewed a hibiscus pale ale, Elixir, in 2018 to pair with their Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream, and then in 2019, brewed a berry brut called Splendid to pair with that ice cream as well.”

The difference in the Land-Grant/Jeni’s partnership is that they are serving the beer and ice cream next to each other rather than combining them into floats. Still, the flavor fusion exists. “We have a seasonal session IPA called Greenskeeper that pairs really well with Jeni’s Savannah Buttermint,” Cipriani says. “[That flavor] paired quite well with the citrus and bitter notes of the beer.” He adds that Jeni’s Wildberry Lavender also worked nicely with Land-Grant’s 1862 American Kölsh Ale. “The fruit cereal milk taste from the ice cream paired extremely well with the light, crisp, citrusy and floral notes of the beer.”

image: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Churning Attention to Floats

For its part, though Jeni’s chooses flavors to complement what’s on tap at Land-Grant, the creamery knows what could work for pairings beyond its neighborhood. “If you want a thirst quencher,” suggests Jeni’s spokesperson Rachel Gaylord, “start with our Frosé sorbet. It’s sort of the equivalent of serving your beer on ice. It would go well with anything light, like a Kölsh, Mexican lager or even a fruitier IPA.” For a richer, more decadent push, she suggests Darkest Chocolate with any kind of mocha stout or Honey Vanilla Bean with a pale ale or IPA. “The sweetness of the cream really cuts through the bitterness of the hops,” she explains.

Even the No. 1-selling ice cream brand in the country has gotten on the beer float bandwagon. Ben & Jerry’s partnered five years ago with Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing to create a limited batch Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale ice cream, while New Belgium brewed its Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale. In this case, the collaboration stemmed from shared social values—a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of the ice cream and beer benefitted Protect Our Winters, an organization raising the awareness of climate change.

That said, Ben & Jerry’s knows the tastiness of a good beer float and offers several ideas for pairing its ice creams with particular New Belgium beers. “It’s true,” admits Laura Peterson at Ben & Jerry’s, “We’ve had a lot of fun pairing beer with our euphoric flavors.” She suggests trying these: Chunky Monkey with New Belgium’s Citradelic Tangerine IPA; Americone Dream with Fat Tire Amber Ale; Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Abbey Belgian Style Dubbel; Phish Food with Glütiny Pale Ale; or Half Baked with 1554 black lager. Although these pairings are specific to New Belgium, the ice creams would pair well with any beer brand brewing a similar style. So, don’t hold back, grab a glass and make yourself a beer float—your inner adult-child will thank you.