This post originally appeared in the March 7, 2022 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
The first time I doused a bowl of ice cream with a pour of dark, caramelly stout, I realized I had been settling. I’ve always felt orange soda, Coke, and root beer made for fine — but not amazing — floats. Since subbing in stout, I’ve found myself turning to floats whenever I want to treat myself with something simple yet indulgent, sweet but slightly bitter, and altogether balanced. This is especially true in the winter, when the beer’s deep, warming notes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla, maple, toffee, 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 out, stout floats may very well convince you of both: The two contrasting but complementary elements bring out the best in each other in one cold, creamy, foolproof concoction.
The process of making a stout float is simple enough: Scoop ice cream into a glass, pour stout over it, dig in with a spoon (my preferred method) or a straw. But how do you choose the right combination? You can’t really go that wrong, but there are a few factors that are helpful to keep in mind. For one thing, pay attention to the ABV if that’s a consideration, as stouts tend to have a wide range in alcohol content, some climbing as high as 15 percent. Although many stouts err on the malty side with a pleasant edge of bitterness, for the heavier, syrupy-sweet varieties, aim for an earthier ice cream (like coffee) to keep things from becoming too cloying. That being said, vanilla ice cream is a safe bet with pretty much any stout, so if you’re looking for a place to start, crack open a Guinness, pour it onto some Häagen-Dazs, and call it a day.
To take it up a notch, get creative with your beer selection — ice cream cake stout or blueberry cheesecake stout, anyone? — or pick a fun ice cream that brings out existing undertones or adds an interesting dimension to the stout, like caramel or dulce de leche, peanut butter, cookies and cream, or maybe even pistachio. You can also add any toppings you fancy, 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 that could work” crosses your mind, then go with your gut and give it a whirl.
Stout floats have the added bonus of being impressive, hassle-free desserts to serve 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).