Normally I focus on beer exclusively in this column, but over the last several years, beer has begun a resurgence as an ingredient in other things. Two of the more classic examples of this are beer-can chicken and beer bread, but I have also recently enjoyed chili and pork roast that included beer, as well as Guinness and hard cider cheeses. Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown, Pa. has begun to take advantage of this trend, diversifying its offerings to include both a nonalcoholic root beer and beer ice cream.
The beer ice cream sounded intriguing, especially with the current heat wave, so I gave it a try. I drove out to the brewery, which is currently the only place this ice cream is available, and picked up two flavors: Triple Monkey, made with the Golden Monkey Belgian Triple, and Storm King Crunch, made with Storm King Russian Imperial Stout. I also found out that the ice cream isn’t made with beer, per se, but rather with wort, .
When beer is made, the grain is steeped in water, almost like tea, and the resulting liquid is called wort. Wort becomes beer after the yeast is added to convert sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide. As a result of this interesting yet logical tradeoff, not all of the flavor is present in the wort — yeast and the fermentation process typically add significant character of their own — but neither is the alcohol. The ice cream can be marketed without dealing with the regulations on alcohol, thus allowing kids to try it. The lack of alcohol is hardly a loss when you consider how low the ABV would be in the finished ice cream anyway because the beer is just a flavoring.
The Triple Monkey appeared almost as a vanilla-caramel swirl, but closer inspection revealed that the color was actually a very light shade of yellow-green. The taste was a distinctive combination of caramel and a big banana character, both of which were accentuated by the roasted nuttiness lent by the peanuts. The Golden Monkey provided a noticeable depth to the flavor, with the malt providing a sweetness distinct from the sugar’s, and the spices accented the caramel and peanuts beautifully. The ice cream’s fairly gooey texture is largely caused by the significant amount of caramel swirl, which melts quickly. This ice cream is very, very rich, but what surprised me is how well the flavors blended. The banana was forward, but not overwhelming, and each of the flavors accentuated the taste instead of just jumbling together into a hopeless blur.
The Storm King Crunch was a very dark brown, and the taste lived up to the coloring; this is one of the most-chocolaty ice creams I have ever had. Impressive in itself is the dark-chocolate flavor when compared to the sweet milk chocolate ice creams I normally get stuck with. The Storm King came through as a nice roasted-malt flavor with a slight hoppy bitterness on the end. The malted milk balls mixed into this batch were also pretty good. I normally don’t like malted milk balls, but these tasted decent and paired well with the chocolate ice cream. The texture in this ice cream was a perfectly smooth and creamy consistency instead of the excess gooeyness in the Triple Monkey or the rock-hard blocks you might find in your grocer’s freezer. My roommate, who undertook the arduous duty of tasting these products with me, said that this flavor reminded him of rocky road ice cream, too.
Overall, I enjoyed both of these flavors of ice cream and I highly recommend trying them, but I was disappointed by the amount of “beer” flavor present. Honestly, if I wasn’t told that these ice creams contained beer, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it. The flavors from the beer definitely take a back seat to the ice cream base. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good ice cream, and the beer flavors do add to it. I just wish they were more pronounced.