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Doc's Enigma aka Beer Float

While he ate his sandwich and sipped his beer, a bit of conversation came back to him. Blaisedell, the poet, had said to him, “You love beer so much, I’ll bet someday you’ll go in and order a beer milk shake.” It was a simple piece of foolery but it had bothered Doc ever since. He wondered what a beer milk shake would taste like. The idea gagged him but he couldn’t let it alone. It cropped up every time he had a glass of beer. Would it curdle the milk? Would you add sugar? It was like a shrimp ice cream. Once the thing got into your head you couldn’t forget it. He finished his sandwich and paid Herman. He purposely didn’t look at the milk shake machines lined up so shiny against the back wall. If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known. But then, a man with a beard, ordering a beer milk shake in a town where he wasn’t known—they might call the police.
Excerpt from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row

Whether to combine beer with ice cream—yes indeed, a conundrum for the ages. You love beer. You love ice cream. Would they work together as one, or would the sum prove less than the value of the individual parts? And if it doesn't work, does that not make the root beer float we enjoyed as children just a cruel setup for adulthood when we attempt such a trick with beer? A mere feint to lure unsuspecting adults—folks like Steinbeck's Doc—into a trap that leads to ridicule and humiliation merely for seeking to tap into the happiness of our inner child?

Fortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to brave souls like myself who have traversed the arid plains of the unthinkable in search of the oft-uncomfortable truth, you can rest assured that Doc's enigma has an answer, and it's a delicious one. Actually, I'm not the first person to try beer and ice cream together, not even close. However you're still likely to draw suspicious glances from folks if you mention such a scheme, especially if you happen to be sporting a beard.

I call this concoction Doc's Enigma, but you can call it a Beer Float, an Adult Float, or whatever else floats your boat.

Doc's Enigma
1 bottle stout beer (I recommend Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout)
2-3 scoops vanilla ice cream (get the creamiest, highest quality you can find)

If you've had a childhood in America you should know the drill. But I suppose there may be readers who are unfamiliar with the root beer float so here goes: simply toss the ice cream in any glass of choice and fill with the beer. Grab a spoon, a straw, or a spoon-straw, and either enjoy it immediately or do what I prefer which is to let it sit for a few minutes so the ice cream begins to melt into and react with the beer. And what a delicious reaction it is. The bitter, malty, and chocolatey notes of the beer are phenomenal with the creamy vanilla ice cream.

While it's a simple enough endeavor with its two basic ingredients, the attention you pay to the ingredients you use will make all the difference. If you can't get Brooklyn Brewery beer you can use Guinness or any other stout beer. The Brownstone Ale from Sixpoint Brewery, which is also located in Brooklyn, is another great choice.

You can experiment with other types of beers as well, although I think darker, maltier beers serve the purpose better, and they're rich enough and have enough body to embrace the ice cream. I certainly wouldn't go with anything lighter than an amber ale, as pilsners and the like just won't give you that malty, slightly bitter flavor that so greatly complements the ice cream.

The choice of ice cream is also important. The creamier the ice cream, the better the final product will be, so skip the low quality stuff as well as anything artificially flavored. I've never tried this with a non-dairy ice cream so lactose intolerant folks may have to do their own experimentation. While I think vanilla ice cream provides the best flavor combination with the beer, there may be other flavors out there worth experimenting with. I would however stay away from anything with bits and chunks in it, as they'll simply float to the bottom.

I suppose you can also go the full milkshake route by blending everything together instead of treating it like a float. I can't imagine that being bad either, although in the end you may find that simplicity is still the best route.

Now let's see if we can get crackin' on the shrimp ice cream.

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!

**Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the stunning photography of Pay's concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.
Column: Happy Hour


  • amazing.

    tomotron on

  • Tastestopping – Thanks for reading and commenting. If I were you I'd grab a copy of the book (which your library will surely have), then make this drink and enjoy the two together. It's such a short book you may be done with both around the same time.

    About the blending idea, I think if you were to blend on low speed, or simply mix the beer and ice cream by hand, you'd get the milkshake effect without the disastrous explosive consequences.

    Paystyle on

  • First, this was a great read. I can't decide which I want more, a Doc's Enigma or to run out and find a copy of Cannery Row.

    Second, oh my heavens, my husband will flip for this idea. He loves both (beer more than ice cream, truth be told) and might just develop an unhealthy affection for this drink.

    Third, beer + ice cream + blender may lead to a huge friggin' mess, as the beer is still carbonated after all. So, either use flat beer (yech) or just go the float route. Or wear your hazmat suit when you try it in the blender.

    Anyway, I found you through TasteSpotting and am writing to say that if you have any photos that aren’t accepted there, I’d love to publish them. Visit my new site (below), it’s a lot of fun! I hope you will consider it.


    TasteStopping on

  • I don't know which I love more: the post's contents or the picture! And it's funny because for a long time now, my boyfriend and I have been joking that one day we will one one business, with one long bar, but split down the middle. On one side, he will have the bar of his dreams. On the other side, I will have the ice cream parlor of my fantasies. I joke that Happy Hour would include beer floats, and he scoffs, but now I have proof it could work! Thanks!

    Julie B. on

  • I have been drinking Guinness Floats (also inspired by Doc) for some time now. Try it with coffee ice cream….amazing!

    Andi on

  • I love Guinness and vanilla ice ream floats! We also now have anew bar here in Tulsa serving Guinness milkshakes. I here they are delicious!

    April and Ashley on

  • I love beer floats, but here's an addition that's sure to please:

    Add 1/2 shot of Godiva Dark Chocolate liquer and a 1/2 shot of Malibu for an even tastier float.

    Ian on

  • Julie B – I think that's a fantastic idea, and I also think that if you don't act on it quick, I may have to steal it (jk)!

    Paystyle on

  • Hm, lemme double check the Galliano we have, but it must be a special edition they came out with coffee tones- we are even making a special cocktail with it now. I know I'm not imagining this. Will report back.

    kayoko on

  • I'm not sure if I'd like the addition of other liqueurs or spirits—at least not with the recipe above. I think the vanilla ice cream and the chocolate stout pair so well that anything else like Malibu rum (which I generally dislike to begin with) and other liqueurs seem unnecessary.

    Not to mention they'll detract from the intended simplicity of the affair.

    Also, Galliano is not a coffee liqueur, but rather an herbal one (with flavors of anise and ginger and top notes of vanilla) although some folks put it in their coffee, the reason for which is completely beyond me.

    Paystyle on

  • Malibu, really?? Hmmm…

    We've been using Galliano a lot where I work, which is an italian coffee liqueur. Wonder how that would go.

    kayoko on

  • I appear to stand corrected. Turns out Galliano's branched out to stay relevant. I believe the product you're referring to is Galliano Ristretto.

    It appears they also have a Galliano Balsamico, which I presume has balsamic flavor of some sort, which should make for an interesting and underused flavoring component.

    Since you have a bottle of the Ristretto, make a Ristretto Daiguiri, which I found on their website, which I've translated for you here from the metric system:
    2.5 oz Aged rum
    1 oz Galliano Ristretto
    1 oz lime juice
    1/2 oz sugar

    Tell me how it tastes, and if it sucks blame their site not me.

    Paystyle on

  • Take note, folks. It is a RARE occasion to school the one and only Paystyle.

    God, that drink sounds nasty, but I'll try making it and will report back.

    kayoko on

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