In February of 2019, hardly prime ice cream season, Häagen-Dazs introduced Spirits, a new collection that infuses alcohol—bourbon, rum, Irish cream liqueur, amaretto, and stout—into ice cream. What took them so long?
“Our team, including the marketing and technical sides, try to keep up with trends,” explains Nestlé senior product scientist Aaron Butterworth. “With the Spirits line, there was definitely a trend toward pairing all sorts of alcohol with food, so it seemed that the time was right,” she adds.
While flavors such as the creamy, vanilla-y, chocolaty Irish Cream Brownie and vanilla and maple-fueled Bourbon Vanilla Bean Truffle might seem like the most logical booze-inspired pairings in the world, development took considerable effort, says Butterworth.
“We do these events we call ‘Flavor Camps,’” she explains. “Basically, we bring together all of our bases and a whole bunch of ingredients and our group of tasters literally sample all these different products and put them together.”
These camps, which occur three or four times a year, are intense and fun, admits Butterworth, but they are also very much based on the science of taste. “We make pairings based more on complementary than contrasting flavors,” Butterworth says, “and we work with texture to make the best partnerships.”
To illustrate this second point, she points to the Irish Cream Brownie ice cream, which has soft and decadent brownie pieces alongside a fudge that sets a little harder and so “cracks” when bitten. Combined with a salty note that contrasts with the sweet Irish cream, it creates complexity in the dessert.
For whisky aficionados looking to set up their own pairings, a couple of basic rules of thumb provide solid starting points. First, leave the “good stuff” in the liquor cabinet, as the sweetness of almost all ice creams is such that pairings need to be painted with broad strokes, leaving little room for nuance. Second, rather than traveling from food to drink, it helps to start with the spirit and move to the ice cream.
Häagen-Dazs provides another solid point of guidance in the natural partnership of bourbon and vanilla. The corollary to this is that the sweeter the bourbon, the more profound need be the vanilla, so a rich, well-barreled bourbon welcomes a more intense vanilla flavor, like that of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla, whereas lighter bourbons work better with a more mainstream, mass-market vanilla.
Turning to Irish whiskeys, they provide pleasantly sweet flavor backdrops for what might be termed novelty flavors of ice cream, from cookie dough to peanut butter cup, with richer pot-still whiskeys best reserved for more forcefully sweet desserts. Where fruit is involved, however, medium-bodied Canadian whiskies—even spiced versions—seem to serve the ice cream better with their rounder, fruitier characters.
As for Scotch whiskies, particularly those with an estery profile, try a dram with a caramel-ribboned ice cream and listen for the angels singing. And contrary to what you might expect, the more elegant the whisky, the richer and more caramely should be the ice cream.
All of which leaves us with chocolate ice cream, a classic flavor if ever there was one, and here we return to the vanilla that forms part of every chocolate flavor and brings us back to big sweet bourbons, or for a change of pace, luscious sherry barrel-aged scotches. Indulgent, yes, but delicious, too.
Three Whisky And Ice Cream Pairings to Try
Redemption Bourbon and Häagen-Dazs Vanilla
With so many harmonious flavors and abundant richness on both sides, the only danger in this pairing is vanilla overload.
Bushmills Original and Breyers Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
‘Light but rich’ is a good way of describing both this ice cream and the whiskey, so it makes sense that they pair together naturally.
Revel Stoke Spiced and Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
Not exactly the darling of the whisky aficionado circuit, the balanced spiced whisky soars when paired with the chocolate, cherry, and cream of Cherry Garcia.