A Glass of Americana: Summer’s Tastiest Ice-Cream Floats

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An ice-cream float is the quintessential summertime treat in the good ol’ U.S. of A. To enjoy one is to experience a bit of nostalgia for all things Norman Rockwell, even if you’re too young to know exactly who Mr. Rockwell is. The root beer–vanilla ice cream combination is a diner staple, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy the creamy, fizzy goodness that goes down with every sip.


It’s easy to make one of these classics: just put two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a tall drinking glass and slowly pour about a cup of root beer on top; add a straw, and you’re done. The good news is, we’re not limited to the root beer–and–vanilla ice cream variety, either; any type of soda (or even beer) can be substituted for root beer, and there are more flavors of ice cream under the sun than ever before to give your float some tasty personality.


Grape Soda + Vanilla Ice Cream
In the 1930s, this popular drink was called the Purple Cow. The modern version of the Purple Cow is still the same—grape soda and vanilla ice cream—though you can easily substitute a grape juice–ginger ale combination for the soda. More adventurous palates can try two scoops of raspberry ice cream or pomegranate sorbet.


Orange Soda + Vanilla Ice Cream
The combination of orange soda and vanilla ice cream is nothing new. But you can mix it up by trying orange sodas other than the standard Sunkist brand. Stewart’s Orange Cream, Jarritos’ Mandarin Soda, San Pellegrino’s Aranciata, and Trader Joe’s Blood Orange Soda add delicious new twists to an old staple and will renew your fondness for this orange-creamsicle float, which is also known as an Orange Cow.


Strawberry Soda + Mango Sorbet
Although this works better with mango ice cream, sorbet is probably easier to find. (Häagen-Dazs makes a mango ice cream, but it’s not a popular flavor, so it’s difficult to find.) Try checking out an Asian food market to see if it carries a mango-flavored ice cream. If you’re not inclined to substitute mango sorbet, try vanilla ice cream and a few tablespoons of mango juice instead.




San Pellegrino Limonata + Strawberry Ice Cream
The trick here is to use a strawberry ice cream that doesn’t have too many fruit chunks. Because the limonata isn’t too tart, it adds just the right amount of tang to complement the strawberry flavor. Add a few crushed mint leaves for a refreshing taste. Mmm-mmm, good.


Ginger Beer + Vanilla Ice Cream
I must confess, the idea for a ginger-beer float came to me after a long night consuming several so-called Yum-Yum cocktails (ginger beer plus chilled vodka and Rose’s lime juice) at Botanica Bar in Manhattan. Ginger is one of those flavors that you either love or hate, and I happen to heart it. A lot. Top this float with a little sprinkle of ground cardamom and cinnamon, or try it with coconut ice cream and throw in some lemongrass.


Chocolate Stout Beer + Vanilla Ice Cream
One evening, I was reading the back of a beer bottle and saw a recipe for a chocolate beer float. (For the life of me, I can’t remember the beer—maybe it was the Sam Adams Chocolate Bock?) I tried the recipe with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and chocolate ice cream, but the flavor of the beer was lost. I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but it was too much chocolate—as if there can ever be such a thing, right? Vanilla ice cream is the way to go here. Top it off with a little bit of ground cinnamon, and you have yourself quite a tasty summertime float. But make sure to guard it at all times from curious children who wonder why you’re groaning loudly with pleasure.


Coffee Soda + Vanilla Ice Cream
Finding this specialty soda in your area may prove difficult, but remember that the Internet is a wonderful tool. This is a coffee lover’s delight. Substitute a coffee or mocha flavor for the vanilla ice cream, and you’ll be awake for days on the caffeine-sugar combination.


There are endless ice-cream float combinations yet to be discovered. Carbonated beverages come in flavors from blueberry to guava. And if you can’t find a fruit juice that’s carbonated, you can simply add a little seltzer or ginger ale to any juice to create your own. Beers are great, too; try everything from fruity lambic beers to dark, rich stouts like Guinness. You can even use prosecco or a fruity sparkling wine. And while you have hundreds of flavors of ice cream to choose from, you can also incorporate sorbets, sherbets, and soy ice creams (for the lactose-challenged among us).


So go on and get creative with your ice-cream floats. It’s easy—and oh so good.

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