The Best Winter Dessert: How to Make a Stout Ice Cream Float

This post originally appeared in the March 7, 2022 edition of The movinga place where Eater’s editors and writers reveal their professional dining recommendations and advice – sometimes thoughtful, sometimes bizarre, but always someone to go. Subscribe now.

The first time I washed down a bowl of ice cream with a drizzle of dark, caramelized stout, I realized I had calmed down. I’ve always felt like orange soda, coke, and root beer were made for fancy, but not amazing, floaters. Since replacing stout, I’ve turned to floats whenever I wanted to treat myself to something simple yet indulgent, sweet yet slightly bitter, and utterly balanced. This is especially true in winter, when the beer’s deep, warm notes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla, maple, caramel and bourbon pair perfectly with an assortment of ice cream flavors.

Whether you’re on the fence about stout or not totally sold on ice cream when it’s cold, stout floats can very well convince you of both: The two contrasting yet complementary elements bring out the best in the other in a cold, creamy, foolproof concoction.

The process of making a sturdy float is quite simple: pour ice cream into a glass, pour ice cream over it, dig in with a spoon (my favorite method) or a straw. But how to choose the right combination? You can’t really go wrong, but there are a few factors worth keeping in mind. For one, pay attention to ABV if that’s a consideration, as stouts tend to have a wide range of alcohol content, with some climbing as high as 15%. While many stouts err on the malty side with a pleasant hint of bitterness, for heavier, syrupy-sweet varieties, aim for an earthier ice cream (like coffee) to keep things from getting too cloying. That being said, vanilla ice cream is a safe bet with just about any stout, so if you’re looking for a place to start, crack open a Guinness, pour it over some Häagen-Dazs, and stop.

To take it up a notch, get creative with your beer selection – ice cream cake stout or blueberry cheesecake stout, anyone? – or choose a fun ice cream that brings out the existing nuances or adds an interesting dimension to the stout, such as caramel or dulce de leche, peanut butter, cookies and cream, or maybe even pistachio. You can also add all the toppings you want, with chopped nuts at the simple end and fudgy homemade brownie bites if you feel like giving yourself a baking project. Basically, if the thought “oh, maybe this could work” crosses your mind, then follow your gut and give it a whirl.

Sturdy floats have the added benefit of being impressive, hassle-free desserts for serving guests. They’re also a low-pressure way to explore and split different stouts without worrying about wasting half the bottle (or experiencing decision paralysis in the beer aisle). At a dinner party recently, I served non-dairy coconut milk ice cream topped with chocolate stout, toasted coconut, and crumbled gosomi crackers (an addictively sweet and salty Korean snack with hints of nuts coconut and sesame). My friends who had never had a stout before (!) were won over.

There’s a lot to love about these floats, and even if you’ve preemptively declared yourself “not a fat person” or “not an ice cream in winter,” you at least owe yourself a to try a creamy, frothy, boozy float before closing the door for good. You probably won’t regret it.

About Thomas B. Countryman

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