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Some people take their comfort in a pint of beer, others in a pint of ice cream. But you're missing out if you've never thought to mix the two: a frosty mug of beer can be even better with a scoop of your favorite vanilla or caramel-fudge. Obviously, not every beer will work—and there are plenty of brews that should definitely not be adulterated with dairy. We asked our crew of beer experts—all Certified Cicerones—for their tips on making the best-ever beer float. Here's what they had to say.
"I made my first beer float in a dorm room in 1997 (coffee ice cream and Guinness), and I've been trying to perfect the combination of frozen treat and barley-soda ever since. It is deceptively difficult to find a brew and a scoop that don't clash in the glass, and I've found it's best to work with complementary flavors instead of trying to exploit contrast like you might when pairing beer with food. Roasty stouts and chocolate or coffee ice cream are wonderful together, and my long-time favorite pairing was Dogfish Head's Chicory Stout and a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream. That's a tough beer to find in bottles these days, but thankfully there are many other wonderful coffee stouts to try.
"One dinner that I recently did had a dessert with white chocolate ice cream where a stout would be chocolate overkill, so I decided to pair it with Wells Banana Bread beer. Using the ice cream and the beer together created a chocolate covered banana flavor that was a hit with the crowd."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)
"A lot of beer styles won't work for a beer float, but it's fun to experiment. We discovered Lindeman's Framboise Lambic with dark chocolate ice cream to be a decadent treat."—Kendall Joseph (Beer Makes Three)
"An obscure combo I have enjoyed is a Belgian dubbel with rum raisin ice cream. The rich dried fruit character in Belgian bubbels plays well with the rum-soaked raisins. The vanilla in the ice cream brings out the richness of the beer."—Corey Esoldi (Societe Brewing)
Hop heads don't have to be left out of the beer float fun, and while it's tough to fit ice cream into an IPA, why not try sorbet? A slightly tart, wheat-heavy IPA like Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' or (my favorite) El Segundo Brewing Co's White Dog IPA and a dollop of lemon sorbet—or a more tropical sherbet, like passion fruit—is intensely refreshing on a summer day. Think about the fruity hop-flavors present in the brew and pair a fruit sorbet to those."—John Verive (Beer of Tomorrow)
"When I'm craving vanilla I like Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This beer is creamy with a very delicate vanilla flavor—when you add vanilla ice cream that creaminess and vanilla is amped up. For days when I want chocolate, nothing beats Southern Tier's Choklat! This beer is like a chocolate bar in a bottle, absolutely amazing! I like a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in this one as well, by doing so you add creaminess and a milk chocolate character to this beer. It's like having two kids, you can't pick a favorite so don't, skip dinner and have two floats!"— Melissa Long-Higgs (Nevada Beverage Company)
"My favorite beer float beer has to be Boulder's Shake Chocolate Porter. Shake is brewed to resemble the character of chocolate milkshake, so it's a given that this beer goes great with vanilla ice cream. A not so intuitive beer-ice cream combo is Stiegl's Grapefruit Radler and vanilla ice cream; this combo takes inspiration form a creamsicle but with grapefruit rather than orange. The main aspect to focus on when choosing these pairings to find a beer with low bitterness; something about the sweetness of the ice cream really emphasizes the bitterness and can make for a terrible pairing if not kept in check."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)
"Obviously stouts, porters and vanilla ice cream play well together. But, if you want a light, refreshing beer float try a Berlinerweiss with a scoop of raspberry sorbet. Berlinerweiss is tart and effervescent and traditionally served with sweet woodruff syrup. When the tart beer is married with the sweet raspberry sorbet, it creates a fizzy pink lemonade sensation!"—Hannah Davis (Molson Coors UK)
"I made a Maui Coconut Porter float with Coconut Bliss ice cream— the combination of rich, toasted coconut flavor and the icy coconut cream perfectly blended together."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)
"Keegan Ales Mother's Milk—a milk stout from Kingston, NY—would be a nice place to start given its rich, medium-full body, with flavors reminiscent of oatmeal and milk chocolate. Follow that with a scoop of salted caramel cashew ice cream to play off the luscious malt elements of the beer while slightly lifting the intensity of the dessert with the presence of the salt, as well as adding another dimension with the earthy, buttery flavors lent by the cashew."—James Tai (Beer Acolyte)
"Not quite a float, but my ideal beer and ice cream combo would be a spin off of a Grasshopper milkshake. Combine vanilla ice cream, a splash of Fernet Branca, and Ska Brewing Vernal Minthe Stout in a blender. Add a pinch of sea salt to help the additions of peppermint, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans in the beer burst forth. Top with a sprig of fresh mint (and crushed Thin Mint cookies if they're in season)."—Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)
"For me, a beer float is all about fun, so I tend to choose beer and ice cream made by friends. Marin Brewing Company's Breakout Stout and Three Twins Cardamom ice cream is more fun than settling for vanilla, and supports two of my favorite local companies."—Collin McDonnell (HenHouse Brewing Company)
"I am not sure who invented the beer float. All I know is that the first time my buddy Jason told me that he made beer floats my gut reaction was, 'Why would you put beer in ice cr...OH MY GOD MAN YOU ARE A GENIUS.' There are many ways to go about this but I'll focus on one only: the Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout float made with vanilla bean ice cream. Kentucky Breakfast Stout is a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout that is brewed with a 'massive amount of coffee and chocolate. The vanilla tones the beer picks up from the bourbon barrels resonate very well with the vanilla ice cream. The coffee in KBS mixes with the melted vanilla ice cream to make you feel like you're sipping a latte as you tilt the bowl back. If you're truly insane, pour some Hershey's syrup on top."—Andrew Hicks (Cinder Block Brewery)
"One of my favorite beers for a beer float is Framboise Boon from Brouwerij Boon. The tart element of a lambic is a great counterbalance to the sweetness of some vanilla ice cream. Add the robust raspberry flavor and you almost have something that resembles a sorbet."—Joe Falkowski (J.J. Taylor Distributing Co.)
"Obsidian Stout from Deschutes with vanilla ice cream. The rich black beer with creamy white ice cream makes for a concoction not unlike a frozen latte. Lots of chocolate and coffee notes in the beer are accentuated by the sweet vanilla flavor. The next time I get the hankering for one I may try a combination of Bourbon Country Brand Stout with some fancy dulce de leche ice cream. There is definitely a time and place for beer floats...and that time could very well be tonight!"—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout and vanilla ice cream float. Old Rasputin is a rich, chewy Russian Imperial stout that gives off roasty flavors of chocolate, coffee, and caramel. The chocolate and coffee complement the ice cream, while the high alcohol helps cut through the sweetness and richness."— Aaron Shebah (Nevada Beverage Company)
"I'm not a guy who likes sweet with my beer. I rarely find it makes the beer taste better, so for me there isn't much of a point of adding ice cream to a good beer that already tastes good. The one style I find that does work well is a sweet Foreign Stout, like Royal Extra from Trinidad. I like it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a shot of Peat Monster Scotch from Compass Box added in to punch it up."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)