Got ice cream? Got beer? Here’s how to make the best beer float this summer

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With sunshine and warm days ahead, it’s time to put away winter beers and reach for lighter, thirst-quenching, summer beers. Pair that other summertime favorite — ice cream — with your next beer, and you can cool yourself down even more effectively and more deliciously.

While beer and ice cream is not a terribly intuitive combination, the resulting beer float can be delicious — if you choose the ingredients with care. It’s not quite as simple as just mixing and matching a pint of your favorite ice cream with a pint of your favorite beer. That way lies madness.

First, consider the root beer float. The first root beer float was made on Aug. 19, 1893 at the Cripple Creek Brewing Co. in Colorado, so given its brewery origin, it’s not a stretch to substitute beer. Just take away the root and a beer float can be every bit as delicious. The key is the right pairing.

My favorite floats start with vanilla ice cream, and while any vanilla will work, vanilla bean or French vanilla ice cream work best. Then pour your beer over it, just like you would a root beer float, and add a straw and spoon.

But which beer?

Generally, mass-produced light lagers and hop-forward IPAs don’t lend themselves well to enjoying with ice cream. But a rich, nutty porter is divine, and a stout works well, too, though you’ll want a stout that’s not too strong (so no Imperial or Russian stouts). A porter that’s nicely malty with hints of nuttiness really pairs beautifully with the vanilla.

If you do go with a heartier stout, substituting cherry ice cream or even cherry-amaretto ice cream for the vanilla is an inspired move. You can even garnish it with a cherry on top. I find that the best kinds of stout for pairing with ice cream are milk stouts, oatmeal stouts or, in some cases, coffee stouts.

Chocolate ice cream can work well with stouts, too, especially a nitro stout because the lack of carbon dioxide means the cream in the dessert holds up better in the float. Other good flavors to try with stout include coffee ice cream, cookies and cream, chocolate mint or raspberry ice cream or sherbet.

Several breweries now make a peanut butter stout beer — a nice marriage of the chocolate notes of the stout and peanut butter. Unsurprisingly, chocolate or vanilla ice cream work quite well with that. And one specific porter worth pointing out is brewed by Hawaii’s Maui Brewing. It’s called Coconut Hiwa Porter, and it’s especially good with coconut ice cream, though it works well with vanilla, too.

Other pairings that work well include pistachio ice cream with a wheat beer, and hefeweizen with strawberry ice cream. The latter should be an authentic German-style Hefe, which has notes of bananas and cloves from the yeast which match the fruity strawberry flavors really well.

Another excellent pairing is a Belgian-style wit (or witbier or white) or tripel paired with orange sherbet. The wit is brewed with orange peels which really helps bring out the orange flavor. Really, any beer with strong fruit notes or that was brewed with fruit will work nicely with a complementary fruit-flavored ice cream. A summer shandy — which is a mixture of beer and lemonade to begin with — will also work with orange sherbet or a limoncello gelato.

A few more esoteric pairings to try are Baltic porter with Rocky Road, a barleywine with butter pecan ice cream (just ignore what I said earlier about stronger beers), most saisons and chocolate fudge ice cream, or an amber lager and salted caramel ice cream. While brown ales are harder to find these days, hazelnut gelato will pair nicely with one. And a Belgian-style dubbel, which is typically brewed by Trappist monks, and cinnamon ice cream offer divine inspiration.

With the sun beating down on you this summer, it’s the perfect opportunity to discover a heavenly combination.

Contact Jay R. Brooks at 

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