Story by Lucy Burningham
Photograph by Shelby Brakken
Picture this. You’re standing on asphalt softened by blazing summer sunshine, looking at a scoop of ice cream that’s beginning to melt around the edges. Maybe your cone holds an ice cream flecked with artisanal chocolate and cocoa nibs. Or it’s a delicate shade of purplish gray: salted black licorice.
Either way, this moment of sweet anticipation has been brought to you by the artisanal ice cream revolution. Small-batch ice cream makers up and down the West Coast are serving up scoops everywhere from food trucks and farmers markets to jam-packed brick-and-mortar shops.
Remember when Ben & Jerry’s was considered cutting edge for shoving fudge-covered, peanut butter-filled pretzels into a malted vanilla ice cream and calling it Chubby Hubby? Today, small-batch ice cream makers are upping the ante by adding gourmet brittles, candied fruit peels, cheeses, cake batters, and more to create a range of nontraditional flavors. Sometimes they make ice cream with ingredients like cherimoya fruit and lavender. Other times they churn out the now standard salted caramel ice cream, if you’re lucky.
It’s easy to see the appeal in Portland, Oregon, where small-batch ice cream maker Salt & Straw has lines out the door, even on the bleakest days of winter. The company is opening its third permanent location this summer, after exploding onto the scene with a mobile cart in spring 2011.
Salt & Straw’s head ice cream maker Tyler Malek develops all the shop’s flavors. He says he approaches the monthly seasonal menu of five or six flavors with a something-for-everyone attitude. “A couple flavors should have the nostalgic yummy factor,” he says, “and at least one should be more out there. Something that pushes the limits of what you can do with ice cream and food in general.”
Take, for example, Salt & Straw’s recent “six-pack” of beer ice creams. Malek tinkered with adding actual beer to ice creams, but found the outcomes less than desirable. “If you pour beer into cream and churn in, you end up with beer ice,” he explains. “And if you boil the beer down, the tannins come out of the hops, any live yeasts are killed, and essential oils are boiled off.”
So instead of using actual beer to create the flavors, Malek sat down with six local brewers to deconstruct the flavor profiles of some of their best beers, which he re-created in each ice cream using a combination of techniques.
To hit the nostalgic note, Malek found inspiration in The Commons Brewery Myrtle Farmhouse Ale, a slightly tart beer with notes of grapefruit from Meridian hops. Malek tasted orange creamsicle when he tried the beer, and now the “Hopped Farmhouse Ale” ice cream mirrors that creamy classic. More nostalgia came from Gigantic Brewing Imperial IPA, which reminded Malek of a pineapple upside-down cake. So he made an ice cream that includes cake batter spiked with candied tangerine zest and a hop syrup.
Beer lovers and limit-pushers will be drawn to the “Cherry Adam from the Wood” ice cream, which was made with cream steeped with pieces of a barrel straight from Hair of the Dog brewery. “I didn’t even know where to get a barrel,” Malek says. “But Alan Sprints [Hair of the Dog owner and brewmaster] said, ‘Here take this one. I just pulled some Cherry Adam from it.’”
Even before he started collaborating with brewers for this project, Malek says he’d visit Portland’s F.H. Steinbart homebrew supply shop to peruse the malt selection. “When I go into Steinbart’s and see 150 types of malt, it’s like a brand new spice rack that I’ve never had access to before,” he says.
Inspiration goes both ways. Breakside Brewery recently released the second incarnation of Salted Caramel Stout beer, which was inspired by Salt & Straw’s sea salt ice cream with a caramel ribbon. The beer was brewed with local Jacobsen fleur de sel and a non-fermentable salted caramel.
“The way Tyler uses ice cream is the way we use beer,” says Breakside head brewer Ben Edmunds. “Both have a limited medium for conveying a wide range of tastes, so you end up relying a lot on texture.” Edmunds says when you take a sip of the Salted Caramel Stout, the flavors change, just as they do when you bite into ice cream with ribbons. “There’s some sweetness up front, a roasted character in the finish, and a noticeable salinity,” he says.
In San Francisco’s Mission District, artisan ice cream makers Bi-Rite Creamery and Humphry Slocombe have carved out distinct niches. While Bi-Rite features organic cream and milk, and more classic flavors like honey lavender and rocky road, Humphry Slocombe is known for flavors and names with some shock value.
There’s Jesus Juice, which includes red wine and Coke, and Secret Breakfast, a signature vanilla ice cream spiked with Jim Beam and cornflakes. And who can forget the Tranny Smackdown sundae, which combines Trix cereal and strawberry ice cream with marshmallow and hot fudge toppings?
“We were never actually trying to shock anyone,” says Jake Godby, Humphry Slocombe’s owner and head ice cream maker. “We don’t want to be perceived as the weird ice cream guys. We don’t make anything we don’t think is really tasty.”
New Humphry Slocombe flavors include poppy seed kumquat, which was made with kumquats pickled in lime juice and salt then pureed, and cherimoya coconut. “I’d never heard of cherimoya until one of our assistants brought in,” Godby says. “The ice cream tastes like yellow cake batter in the best way possible.”
During San Francisco Beer Week last February, Humphry Slocombe featured a range of beer ice creams. Godby says that for each ice cream, he reduced a craft beer into a syrup, then added other ingredients that helped define the flavor profile of the beer, from caraway brittle to fresh herbs. Some ice creams included Iron Springs rye and Drake’s Black Robusto Porter.
Take inspiration from the pros when making your own homemade ice cream. “It’s actually a pretty simple process,” Godby says, “so be fearless. You’re not wasting a ton of money if it doesn’t work out. Try again. Making ice cream at home is fun.”
Once you discover your favorite base recipe, start playing with additional ingredients and bumping up flavors. Malek recommends adding “mixes” for both crunch and flavor. For example, brittles can be made with everything from whiskey to herbal sugars.
Malek says making flavored syrups, then adding them to your ice creams, will help you control the creaminess of the ice cream. Consider making some syrups using malt, he says, and don’t be afraid of using liquid malt extracts. Or, turn beer into a syrup, Humphry Slocombe-style. Godby says darker chocolately beers usually produce good flavors.
Then, enjoy. After all, it’s ice cream.
At dessert heaven Pix Patisserie, in Portland, Oregon, beer floats have been on the menu for
the past decade, ever since the first location opened. “Root beer in floats is good, but adult beverages are better,” says Cheryl Wakerhauser, Pix’s owner and a former pastry chef. “I’d rather have beer in my float.”
The classic Pix beer float features two scoops of mocha ice cream, made without a custard base, topped with Rogue Chocolate Stout. It’s served in a pint glass. “It’s kind of a meal in a glass,” Wakerhauser says. Beer backs are available, if you end up with more ice cream than beer.
For a short time, Pix also offered a lambic float, made with raspberry lambic and vanilla ice cream, but Wakerhauser says they returned to the mocha/stout combo because of the incredible mouth feel and flavor combination. “Because the ice cream doesn’t have eggs in it, it doesn’t have that silky mouth feel on its own,” she says. “But it melts perfectly in the beer.”
When making your own beer floats at home, Wakerhauser recommends matching a beer’s body to the ice cream’s body. For richer stouts and porters, for example, find richer, creamier ice creams that will hold up to the beer. Also, she recommends thinking beyond vanilla when it comes to choosing an ice cream.
Stout Beer Ice Cream
recipe courtesy of Jake Godby of Humphry Slocombe
1 (12-oz) bottle of stout
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine stout and brown sugar and cook, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 15–20 minutes. It should be slightly sticky to the touch.
Add molasses and salt and stir to dissolve. Add cream and milk and cook, stirring occasionally until hot but not boiling.
Fill a large bowl or pan with ice and water. Place a large, clean bowl in the ice bath and fit the bowl with a fine-mesh strainer.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and granulated sugar until well blended.
Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Slowly pour half of the hot cream mixture into yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan so it doesn’t scorch, until the liquid begins to steam and you can feel the spatula scrape against the bottom of the pan, about 2–3 minutes.
Remove custard from the heat and immediately pour through the strainer into the clean bowl resting in the ice bath. Let cool, stirring occasionally.
Once custard has cooled, cover bowl tightly and chill at least one hour. Transfer to your ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions.