The Beer Float Guide That Will Transform Your Summer Drinking

Photo: © David Tsay / Christina Holmes

Cold beer and colder ice cream: these are the essentials that get us through each summer. And when the two join forces, the refreshingly delicious possibilities are endless.

Certified cicerone Marcus TenHarmsel has curated several ice cream and beer pairings at Austin's Hopfields.

"If you consider the basic principles for beer pairings- match strength with strength, find harmonies, and consider contrasting elements- ice cream can offer loads of fun pairings," he explains, "Especially to the adventurous soul who is willing to make mistakes and try unusual things."

Most recently, Hopfields collaborated with Lick Honest Ice Creams, a homegrown Austin company committed to using seasonal and local ingredients, including high quality cream sourced from a nearby family-run farm.

"We love making (beer floats) because it gives us an opportunity to highlight the subtle flavor characteristics that exist in our ice creams," says chef/owner Anthony Sobotik. "The complexity of flavor you get with many brews is something you can't typically find in a craft soda."

"There are endless opportunities when you have ice cream flavors involving spices, herbs, vegetables, fresh berries and citrus, because many beer styles share such similar flavors coming from the hops, yeast, and adjuncts used to brew them," explains TenHarmsel. "This is when things get really fun and exciting for me."

When creating beer floats, Sobotik recommends being mindful of sugar and fat content of your components. "If you want a light, refreshing float, you'll want an ice cream that's not high in sugar or fat," he says. "A heavy ice cream with a high butterfat level is not going to be refreshing and it would compete with a lighter beer…Adversely, if you want a heavier, creamier result, select a higher fat ice cream and pair it with a creamier, heavier beer that can handle the ice cream, such as a porter or stout."

Stouts and Porters

"Big chocolate or coffee stouts work wonderfully with complimentary ice cream flavors like vanilla, coconut, or toffee, and create an even better sensory experience when put together," says TenHarmsel. Some of his picks include Odell Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout, 512 Pecan Porter, Southern Tier Pumking, and Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout. Sobotik prefers using a Schwarzbier like the Black Thunder from Austin Beerworks. "It's often times lighter bodied than a stout or porter but with the same depth of flavor," he says, finding it pairs well with ice cream flavors like their dark chocolate with olive oil and sea salt.

Hefeweizens and Kristalweizens

"The vibrancy and freshness of citrus or berry flavors pair perfectly with brews like Hefeweizen," says Sobotik. Try combing a Hef with a scoop of strawberry ice cream and a Belgian style wit with goat cheese, thyme, and honey ice cream.

Lambics, Wild Ales and Berliner Weisse

"Sour beers can be great too," says Sobotik. "Our kitchen manager loves them in floats and thinks they're the most interesting as tart and creamy flavors work so well together." TenHamsel's favorite sour float was made with Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition lambic-style beer paired with lemon and lavender ice cream. Try scooping simple vanilla bean ice cream into Saint Arnold Brewery's Boiler Room Berliner Weisse, wild ales like Jester King Brewery's Atrial Rubicite and Goose Island's Halia or any of the fruit lambics produced by New Glarus Brewing or Lindemans.

Pale Ales and IPAs

"Hoppy beers often have fruit forward flavors," says TenHarmsel, "so a tangy sorbet, or a juicy peach ice cream can be a refreshing treat." He cites another favorite pairing: uber-hoppy and fruity Cedar Creek Dankosaurus IPA with dewberry corn cobbler Ice cream (a Lick flavor made from juicy dewberries with pops of fresh corn kernels.) Piney IPAs with a crisp citrus finish, like Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale or 3 Floyds' Zombie Dust Pale Ale, could be elevated with a scoop of a citrus sorbet or sherbet.

Nitro Beer

The best floats, both Sobotik and TenHarmsel agree, occur with beer poured from a nitro tap (a method whereby nitrogen is added to the brew). "The lack of CO2 in nitro beers produces bubbles both smaller in size and quantity, which enables the cream to hold up better in the float because of nucleation," explains Sobotik. "Nitro beers also embody an overall creaminess that produces a more desirable mouth feel when crafting a beer float." You can't go wrong, promises TenHarmsel, with a simple Guinness and chocolate ice cream float. As for something a little more complex, he'll never forget the time he paired Left Hand Milk Stout (available in nitro bottles) with strawberry basil ice cream from Lick.

"Beer is such a great match for ice cream floats because of the endless diversity of flavor it has to offer," TenHarmsel says. And with more and more craft breweries and artisan ice cream shops than ever before, there are enough exciting combinations to keep us afloat all summer long.

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