It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you why ice cream and fizzy sodas work well together. The slowly melting ice cream becomes laced with thousands of little trapped soda bubbles that each impart a bit of their flavor onto the ice cream before you take a bite. As you continue on, the thicker, richer soda begins to mix completely with the warming ice cream to create a new, third taste: it’s not quite ice cream or soda, it’s a hybrid mix of the best from each. Creamy and bubbly and fully infused with all of the flavors from whatever beverage began in your glass, these thick sips and spoonfuls are what takes the idea of floating ice cream in soda to a whole other level. As a summertime specialty, it’s a near-perfect cooling device that’s much more than a collection of two simple ingredients.
So what happens when you take out the soda, and put in beer? Both beverages can offer bold, rich flavors in a tightly carbonated package. And both mix well with the simple creaminess of a scoop of ice cream, but soda falls short when it comes to the satisfying twang of alcohol fermentation. There’s an underlying bite to beer floats, a snappiness that cuts through all of that sweet indulgence to create a summertime ice cream drink that can actually be surprisingly refreshing.
By way of example, take a look at Golden State on Fairfax. Already a popular burger and fries joint, owners Jason Bernstein and James Starr have always had a knack for serving up a great — if short — tap list of rotating craft beer favorites. They also proudly serve a small selection of Scoops ice cream, the indie favorite for anyone serious about creameries in Los Angeles. So it should come as no surprise that Bernstein and Starr set about making the city’s most consistently delicious beer float, and putting it on their menu for all the world to see.
Not that beer floats are hiding, mind you. It’s just that they’re shy, and tend to only come out during the annual L.A. Beer Float Showdown, when local breweries pair up with nearby ice cream shops for a taste of the good stuff. Finding a daily beer float for your occasional mid-week needs can be an exercise in frustration. The Oinkster will make you one, considering they have both Fosselman’s Ice Cream and a rotation of tap and bottled beers to soak it all up in. Still, you’d have to ask for it, since the regular menu doesn’t carry such a delight on its own.
Which brings us back to Golden State on Fairfax. Walk in on any night of the week (except Monday, when they’ve thwarted many a lunchtime office worker by being closed) and look to the bottom of the menu. You’ll find the words “beer float” there, in lettering no bigger than the typeface around it, but all the bolder for its uniqueness. For $8 on any hot evening, you can avail yourself of a spoonful of Scoops brown bread ice cream splashed into a pint of Old Rasputin, the supremely dark Russian Imperial stout from North Coast Brewing. With an alcohol percentage (9%) that’s higher than the cost of the drink, this is no stunt dessert concoction. Despite the summer little league connotations, this is one serious beer float.
The big, complex Old Rasputin doesn’t need any help to fill you up. It’s dark and malty, with big notes of chocolate and coffee, the sort of thing you’d need in parts of Russia practically year round. There’s sweetness and a playful bit of breadiness from all of that hard-working yeast, making Old Rasputin practically a meal unto itself. And then you add the ice cream for an over the top kick of caramelized goodness. Rather than battling for supremacy — or perhaps choosing a less bold ice cream flavor — the Golden State team allowed the ingredients to build the whole affair to new heights. Their beer float is almost over-rich, over-bold, but with that 9% ABV edge that keeps it all in line. This is a summer beer drinker’s float, made with only the best that California has to offer. While you can sneak around L.A. looking for proper beer float imitators, Golden State’s superb version is just about the only one you need. And it’s available every day.
Golden State: 426 N. Fairfax, Los Angeles; (323) 782-8331. thegoldenstatecafe.com