It's Time to Make Beer Floats (And 4 Other Delicious Beer Experiments)

May 20, 2020

By Jonathan Bender, May 20, 2020

Nobody minds the idea of getting a bit more beer into their system right now. It's time to look at your beer cellar and the back of the fridge and get creative.

“Beer is just another ingredient to experiment with,” Christopher Elbow, a chocolatier and frequent collaborator with Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, says.  

Beer has likely been a good friend these past two months; but it is time you took that relationship to the next level. Beer can be a dessert topping (beer syrup) or dessert (beer ice cream, beer floats). Beer can be a refreshing cocktail on ice or a cocktail made of ice (beer slushie). Here are five beer drinking experiments that you can try at home.  

Beer Syrup

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Beer syrup is going to go wrong before it goes right. You’re going to make some mistakes on this one. But if you sacrifice a few bottles, you’ll be rewarded with a versatile syrup that can doctor up everything from breakfast to dinner. 

“The one thing you don't want to do is overcook the syrup,” Russ Meredith, the owner and founder of The Beer Syrup Co., says. 

Meredith, a longtime bartender and bar manager in Louisville, Kentucky, spent 18 months developing the syrups for his company that launched in 2014. Since then, he’s used beer syrup to make coffee drinks, glaze meat, top waffles, and punch up cocktails. 

“You should avoid using any of the domestic light lagers as they typically have corn in the mash profile,” Meredith says. “Once cooked down, it will come out, well, corny.” 

He also avoids using lambics, Belgians, and saisons because of their higher price tags and possibility for strong flavors that may only be amplified with heat. 

Meredith says that “beers with a heavier malt profile tend to work better because of the natural sugars from the grain.” He often hears the taste is akin to molasses or honey. 

Beer Syrup Recipe

Makes about 4 ounces
Recipe from
Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy by Jonathan Bender

12 ounces stout or porter
1/2 cup turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

1. In a large nonstick saucepan, bring the beer to a boil over medium heat, stirring gently. As soon as the beer boils, reduce the heat to medium-low. The beer needs to be simmering with small bubbles on the surface, but not frothy. Simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring every 3 or 4 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. The beer will begin to thicken as it reduces and may get slightly darker in color. 

2. After 30 minutes, stir every 2 to 3 minutes to keep the reduction from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the beer into a heat-resistant bowl. Add the sugar to the bowl. Stir with a whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved. Let cool completely, about 90 minutes. The syrup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Beer Slushies 

Any time I see a slushie machine behind a bar, I’m going to ask what’s inside (before I just order one anyway). Slushie machines are secretly the playgrounds of beertenders. 

This is where they make the frozen margarita-beer hybrid that tastes like a beach even when the ocean is nowhere near you. The main ingredient in beer slushies is time. Take a free afternoon, get out your blender and get playing. 

The summer beer release calendar is built for beer slushies. Jammy beers (Boulevard Brewing Co.’s Jam Band, for example), ciders, and tart Berliner weisse with fruit all have the sweet and tart notes you want out of adult Italian ice. 

Beer Ice Cream 

Beer ice cream is like a cold whisper of your favorite six-pack. 

“This isn’t going to taste like you just cracked a beer open and you drink it,” Christopher Elbow says. “But you can tell beer is in there, you can taste it.” 

When he’s making ice cream, Elbow wants a beer with “strong character,” like a Belgian quadrupel or stout. Follow the beer syrup playbook and opt for malty beers with roasty characteristics.  

The key, Elbow says, is remembering that beer flavor is always a suggestion. You want to find ways to accentuate what is in the beer without losing the character of the style. At his ice cream shop Glacé, a citrus IPA was amplified with added lemon, while chocolate flakes are a nice addition to a deep-bodied stout.  

If you brew your own beer, he recommends using some of the same base ingredients for beer ice cream. You can steep roasted malts or barley in the cream before reinforcing it with more of the beer made from those ingredients. And if it doesn’t work out?  

“Remember, it’s fun,” Elbow says.

Beer Floats 

Beer floats don’t have to be novelty drinks. I’m looking directly at you, mustard ice cream beer float.

Good beer floats are about finding complementary or contrasting flavors between the scoop of ice cream and the beer in your mug. There is so much more to explore than French vanilla and a Guinness—although if that’s what you’ve got, have at it, without question.  

Great floats need solid pairings. Get yourself a dunkel and some caramel ice cream to make a milkshake without the blender. Staying with German beers, the latent banana esters in a hefeweizen are built for a fat scoop of peanut butter ice cream. A coffee stout with a scoop of blueberry or cinnamon ice cream is dynamite. 

Start with a beer you love. Hone in on one of the background characteristics and then let yourself get a little weird (just not yellow-mustard-ice-cream-weird). 

Beer Cocktails  

Beer should be welcome in your home bar. It can provide balance and a bubbly float on top of a mixed drink. Beer can also be a way to make those spirits hiding in the back of your cabinet a little more approachable. Check out the falernum and citrusy IPA in The Carwyn Viking or Fernet and a nitro stout in a Nitro Toronto

As the weather warms, I find myself adding in a Beer’s Knees—a beer-laced take on the sunny Bee’s Knee’s gin drink—to my back porch routine. This simple cocktail doesn’t require a lot of prep or unusual ingredients, and the crispness of a pilsner (or wheat in a pinch) balances out the sweetness of honey and tart lemon juice. 

For a party or tailgate, the additional ingredients in a Beer’s Knees are easy to batch and premix. Just crack the beer when you’ve ready to serve, add it to the other ingredients and give it a light stir, so the cocktail doesn’t foam over.  

Top photo by Lauren Pusateri.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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