The root beer float is a thing of summertime nostalgia, recalling joyful childhood afternoons, and maybe flashbacks to the lovable and carefree crew of Happy Days. It is also just the kind of fetishized indulgence ripe for a reboot in present-day Seattle, where we adults face social expectations to refine our palates, challenge our taste buds, and immerse ourselves in the world of more “sophisticated desserts.” So it’s no surprise that establishments around the city now offer adult ice-cream dessert drinks like craft-beer floats and spirited shakes that showcase the nuances of unexpected flavor pairings—with deliciously whimsical results.
Bluebird Microcreamery and Brewery produces artisan ice cream with flavors that change with the seasons, and they brew small-batch craft beers specifically with dessert treats in mind. Curious patrons are sure to enjoy Bluebird’s popular beer-float libations, featuring Theo Chocolate Milk Stout, Caffe Vita Coffee Porter, or “Split Personality” Bourbon-Banana Chocolate-Vanilla Stout—a unique collaboration with Elysian Brewing Company that the brewers plan to keep on tap throughout the summer.
While most foodies agree there are no strict rules for matching ice-cream flavors with their spirituous mates, Josh Reynolds, owner of Bluebird, does suggest a few guidelines for newbies. “The usual desired outcome of a beer float is smooth and rich. Try to stick to something dark and malty-er, and away from light and bitter.”
Another innovative Seattle-based foodie, Autumn Martin, owner of Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery, began creating boozy shakes and float flavors while writing her Malts and Milkshakes cookbook in 2011. Martin’s passion for adventurous dessert combinations prompted her to ask questions like “Are there classic cocktails that can be turned into a milkshake?” This inquisitive and experimental approach shaped the Hot Cakes menu, with drinks such as the Oaxacan Milkshake, with chocolate, chilies, and mescal, and the notorious house favorite, the Drunken Sailor—a creamy milkshake with housemade peanut butter-caramel and Jameson whiskey.
With four popular, family-friendly Seattle locations, Full Tilt Ice Cream also offers beer floats—but only as a “secret menu” option. Known for their new and vintage pinball arcade games and whimsical ice-cream flavors like Strawberry Basil, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Coffee Oreo, Full Tilt parlors also carry a selection of local canned and bottled beers. While owners Ann Magyar and Justin Cline don’t explicitly advertise beer floats on the menu, employees are happy to whip one up. Try pairing a robust porter with Huckleberry Chip ice cream—and a few rounds of Pac-Man—for another of Seattle’s fun, eccentric, and distinctly adult summertime treats.