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.
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.