Ice cream drinks grow up with a boozy kick
On the Gulf Coast, float is a very important word in daily life.
It’s a very good word when referring to docks, boats, buoys and life preservers.
Step back away from the sand, and it takes on a nostalgic meaning accompanied by ice cream, root beer or Coca-Cola. Float is most certainly a central part of the soda fountain vocabulary.
So, as the laws of civilization demand, anything that becomes important in life must eventually be found in the cocktail bar. It wouldn’t be important otherwise.
While many cocktail aficionados shudder at the thought of this juvenile interloper mixing in with the adult bar’s vodkas, rums and whiskeys, the popularity of making alcoholic beverages out of soda fountain favorites has been growing enormously over the past decade.
The craft beer movement contributed to the adult float trend after it was discovered how well many of the more bitter beers paired with various flavors of ice cream. One of the better known beer floats is called the Shakin’ Jesse, the origin of the name lost in time. It consists of Guinness Stout, chocolate ice cream and espresso, all blended together like a milkshake.
In Houston, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant makes one version using Guinness, espresso, chocolate sauce and Amy’s Mexican vanilla ice cream.
While the ice cream float is considered a born-American thing — it was invented in 1874 by Robert McCay Green, a soda fountain operator in Philadelphia — the concoction is an international traveler. Likewise, where the float goeth, the alcohol followed.
The Boston Cooler, which is made with ice cream and ginger ale, has begat numerous happy-makers using gin, vodka, rye and, in Detroit, the Greek alcohol ouzo.
The Snow White, a float found in many Asian countries, has incorporated saké and other Asian liqueurs to make Snow White a little less snow white.
The Helado Flotante, a cola and sherbet float found in Mexico, had no trouble partnering up with tequila. The ice cream floats in Australia and New Zealand are called spiders, supposedly because of the web-like reaction ice cream has to carbonation. The itsy bitsy spider has been known to catch a few beers in that web.
The Cherry Vanilla Float, an iconic drink straight from the book of 1950s Pop’s Malt Shop nostalgia, is one of the best examples of reaching adulthood. Cocktail recipes for this float include using everything from cherry vodka, vanilla vodka, brandy, dark rum, various tequilas and even butterscotch schnapps. Betty, Archie and Jughead will never be the same.
Ironically, the original ice cream floats were once regarded in the same league as alcoholic beverages. In the early years, carbonated drinks were marketed as medicinal cures, thus causing concerns about them being served as recreational drinks. Some places banned their sale altogether while others forbid them being sold on Sundays or other holy days. In those places, many soda fountain owners began selling floats without carbonation. These soda-less treats became known as sundaes.
The attraction of float cocktails is both their sweetness, though tempered by the alcohol, and their chill. In one way, it’s like making an alcoholic sauce to pour on an ice cream sundae.
The popularity of cocktail floats has also made a smoothie transition.
At the appropriately named Float Pool & Patio Bar, 2828 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston, people in the know can loudly walk up to the bar and proudly order one of the establishment’s popular smoothies, being all healthy and stuff. They can then whisper, “Make it a boozy smoothie.”
“Float has a whole ‘secret’ menu where boozy smoothies live,” General Manager Evelyn Eisenhour said. “If you don’t already know, or a bartender doesn’t try to upsell you by adding rum or vodka, you’d never know.”
The bar has made boozy smoothies available for a long time, but they are left off the menu so that people can pretty much build their own. There are five smoothies posted, with all kinds of ingredients including mango, pineapple, blueberries, cranberries, bananas and strawberries. People can order one of the ones listed, or get creative. Instead of the ice cream used in the floats, yogurt goes into the smoothies.
As for the boozy part?
“Most of the time, an adult orders a smoothie, we offer to put some type of flavored vodka or rum in it,” Eisenhour said. “Putting booze in a smoothie isn’t the first idea people have when they come to a pool bar, but first-time sippers are pleasantly surprised by how well the liquor goes with them.”
Surprisingly, almost any favorite liquor can go into a float or similar cocktail. Many lean toward an alcohol flavored with vanilla or fruit, but a smoky flavor or spicy pepper can make one of these sweet beverages an adventure in contrasting flavors.
It’s well worth experimenting to find one that pleases an individual taste, or, as they say on the coast, find whatever floats your boat.
Blue Chair Strawberry Mango Boozy Smoothie
This recipe, based on an original drink created at Galveston’s Float Pool & Patio Bar, 2828 Seawall Blvd., has been altered to make at home.
1.5 ounces Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum
6 ounces strawberry and mango purée
2 ounces passion fruit juice
2 ounces plain yogurt
Place all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until well blended. Pour into a 12-ounce cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of mint or a sliced strawberry.
Strawberry and Mango Purée
½ cup frozen mango chunks
½ cup frozen strawberries
Passion fruit juice or water for thinning,
Place all of the ingredients in a blender; pulse until smooth, adding a little juice or water to thin, if needed. This will make about 1 cup of purée. Store in the refrigerator.