How To Prepare, Drink, and Fully Appreciate
a Root Beer Float
The Root Beer Float, properly made, has not only the layers of complexity of any great culinary invention, wine or spirit, but is one of the few recipes that is more complicated in its consumption than its preparation—that is, if you want to experience the full pleasure of this masterpiece of simplicity.
First, the root beer has to have intense flavor (Stewart’s is good). The ice cream? Only vanilla—the higher the butterfat the better. (Häagen-Dazs will do, but try for even richer and more vanilla.) However, a float will fulfill expectations with any ice cream that isn’t so beaten in with air that it immediately decomposes.This is important, because the pleasure of the float is in the pace and sequence—the eating and the drinking.
But before I map the route, I have to emphasize that this is a “Float,” not a soda or a shake. The perfection of the Float depends on the developing relationships between the Root Beer, which I’ll call the Fill, and the ice cream, which I’ll call the Ice Cream.
Now, the Root Beer Float, the developing relationships, the experience:
First, The Fill.
The Ice Cream, one medium-to-small scoop of vanilla, must be anchored, in part, to the edge of the glass so it appears to float, just kissing the surface of the Fill, which should be equal to, say, one bottle of ice-cold Root Beer. This creates the first step on the ladder of pleasure for the Float Drinker: the Foam
The Foam: This is the subtle overture to the symphony to follow; it contains all of the flavors, but in their airy, evanescent incarnation (unlike other foams which are intense reductions of flavor).
Start off eating just the Foam with the spoon; here you introduce yourself to the flavor of the Fill and The Cream and begin to establish your pace and rhythm. This pace and rhythm are as important as the ingredients. You cannot pause in consuming a Root Beer Float. This does not mean shoveling it in, not at all. But it is not a stop-and-start experience. Once you start, you keep going until it’s gone. Steady on.
After a few spoonfuls of The Foam, start eating the Foam and the Ice Cream—again, in small tastes—actually the nature of the float will prohibit anything but small tastes, because you can’t go chasing the Ice Cream around the Fill. You can’t stab it or sink it or, under any circumstance, stir it; you have to keep it floating. This restraint pays off in creating The Cream (but more of that later).
So, it’s a gradual advance you make through the layers of texture and flavor. After a few spoonfuls of the Foam and the Ice Cream, start adding in the Fill; this will be your first full taste of the Root Beer. This combination of Foam, Fill, and Ice Cream will take you some distance down the glass. Good Ice Cream will stay afloat and keep its shape until you’ve consumed as much as half the glass, certainly a good third.
The magic, though, happens while you take these first careful steps. All the while you‘re tasting the small spoonsful of The Foam, The Fill, and the Ice Cream, there is a covert infusion of Ice Cream in the Root Beer, which creates the opportunity for sipping the supernal Cream, that Root Beer-infused ambrosia.
A few notes: Please use only a semi-wide straw (you can’t savor a Root Beer Float through a water main), which allows the Fill to remain cold and Root Beer-y at the end; The Cream should be exceedingly velvety and rich; and your thirst will, I promise, be quenched in your final, uninterruptedly pleasurable, uptake of The Float.
A few more notes: The Float is not to be accompanied by anything but thirst. I repeat: the pace must be steady at whatever modest speed works, but you can’t stop. And don’t be rough with the ingredients, at first or through the final sipping of the Cream. Don’t poke and push and prod the Ice Cream around and, above all, don’t—don’t ever—stir; the beauty of this drink is how it evolves without any interference other than consuming it.
If you make any mistakes, you lose distinctions—the distinctions of flavor, temperature, texture—the distinctions, which are everything.
Now you see that drinking a Root Beer float is a patient, careful process; not diamond- cutting, but definitely not just a sloppy chow down. As in undertaking any discipline, your care, restraint, and concentration will guarantee the payoff.