Not long ago the folks from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw stopped by the F&W offices, and there was much rejoicing. That’s because what Salt & Straw makes is ice cream, and when you bring ice cream to an office full of ravenous foodies, rejoicing and/or gorging is what happens.
What particularly intrigued me about Salt & Straw, though, is that it’s one of several artisanal ice cream producers involved in what you might call a “cocktail ice cream” trend. For their newly released Strawberry and Verbena Pimm’s Cup flavor, for instance, S&S cofounder Tyler Malek teamed up with bartender Ross Hunsinger of Portland’s Aviary bar to create a concoction utilizing strawberries, lemon verbena and a zingy gin marmalade. Along the same lines, at Georgia’s High Road Craft Ice Cream, founder Keith Schroeder’s Bourbon Burnt Sugar ice cream basically tastes like sipping bourbon at the same time you’re eating frozen crème brulée—not a bad thing, in my world. Jeni’s Spendid Ice Cream in Ohio created Moonshine & Corn Syrup Custard with Pecans for Father’s Day (and why not) in addition to its usual lineup, which includes a terrific Riesling–Poached Pear Sorbet.
Do these ice creams have actual alcohol in them? Yes. But that’s not really the point. As Malek says, “What we’re trying to do is focus on the flavor of the alcohol or cocktail, not make them boozy. So, for our Chocolate Chip Mint Julep flavor, we made an ‘essence’ of bourbon using apricots, stone fruits, coconut and so on; and there’s also a lot of cooked bourbon in there, where we just cook off the alcohol.” In fact, what most of the artisanal ice cream makers creating these liquor-infused flavors aim for is to keep the overall alcohol level at less than 0.5 percent of total volume, which is minimal (the number comes from FDA regulations, I’m told).