Most restaurants will have you believe that the only drinks to pair with dessert are coffee, sweet wine, and possibly a beer or two. Rarely is anything boozy paired with ice cream, except when that ice cream can be turned into a milkshake. But it’s time to throw out those myths! Gone are the days where your only choices were chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Today’s delicious ice creams are wonderfully unique, with more sophisticated ingredients such as ginger, and savory players like salt, to deliver an ice cream experience with more depth. A properly paired wine or cocktail can draw out more flavors in ice cream than ever before.
Let’s start with classic vanilla, the most popular flavor in America. If you like yours plain, choose a side of bourbon or even a well-made Old Fashioned with its sweet and smokiness will work for balance, while allowing the vanilla flavor to shine through. Add a little cookie dough, like with Phin & Phebes’ Vanilla Malt Cookie Dough, and you’ll want to reach for an oaky buttery chardonnay from California’s Central Coast, or a tawny port like Churchill’s 10-year-old (since now you’ve gone a little bit sweeter and need something to cut through it). Another vanilla-based Phin & Phebes to try is the Vanilla Cinnamon with a Sauternes, or even a Russian River Valley late-harvest Gewürztraminer. They also make a great fall ice cream with Ginger Cookie Snap; it’s perfect for apple pie a la mode with a little Riesling on the side.
Right now is definitely a caramel moment in the ice cream world. With all the types of salted caramel on the market, those who prefer their dessert on the sweeter side should try Graeter’s Salty Caramel. Made in small batches and done in the French Pot style, it’s consistently some of the creamiest ice cream available. Pick up a nice Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to sip with the pint, the berry sweetness and acidity will play well with the creamy saltiness. If you just want something a little more on the bitter side of caramel and/or a little crunch in your spoonful—go with Häagen-Dazs’ Caramel Cone, and add a light and smoky mezcal to your glass.
But most of us want a little chocolate with our sweet treats. There’s Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip for the fruit+chocolate lovers—it goes nicely with a subtle framboise beer. Or you might be in the mood for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip. We’re tied on who’s better: Graeter’s, McConnell’s, or Greenfield—all should put you in the mood for a jammy, mellow Argentinian Malbec from Mendoza. Looking for the purest chocolate? How about Häagen-Dazs’ Belgian Chocolate? A nice sweet bourbon like Maker’s Mark would fit that bill. Or you can’t decide between caramel and chocolate? Phin & Phebes’ Dark Chocolate Salty Caramel to the rescue with a medium-bodied, dark cherry red Australian Syrah or Shiraz.
If you’re feeling lazy and want booze already in the pint, Steve’s Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla, Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast, and McConnell’s Boysenberry Rosé should all be on your grocery list. Or just pick up a something from Tipsy Scoop. All you need now is to figure out what to queue up in your Netflix.