Behind The Recipe: Stout Floats

From the food editor’s first moment of inspiration to the final result that appears in the pages of Gourmet, each of our recipes goes on a long journey, usually involving multiple tastings, hot debate, and the occasional thrown saucepan. It’s always seemed a shame that these stories go untold, so in Behind the Recipe, a new continuing series, we’re going to remedy that. Today: Ian Knauer’s Stout Floats from the June, 2007 issue.
stout floats

Most of the recipe ideas for this month’s grill menu came easily to me because I love to grill. Just about everything that gets thrown over an open flame gets better— except dessert. I know: a banana here, some pineapple there, and the occasional piece of stray watermelon sometimes find themselves over the coals, and they aren’t bad. But, after a day of grilling, I don’t want grilled pineapple. I want some beer. As I designed the grill menu, this was the prevailing thought going through my head. So I turned to my officemate, Melissa Roberts, and explained my predicament. Melissa has a gift for combining flavors. "Why don’t you do a root beer float, but with real beer?" Brilliant!

I’d had a cocktail in London called a Guinness and Black, which is a shot of blackberry schnapps in a Guinness. When I had finished it, the Guinness’ telltale sudsy rings remained, clinging to the pint glass and reminding me of the play of sweet berry against the beer’s charcoal bitterness. Remembering this, I went—no, ran—to our well-stocked test kitchen. There was vanilla ice cream in the freezer, blackberry brandy in the cabinet and one solitary bottle of Guinness Extra Stout. I scooped, I measured, and I poured. My colleagues gathered skeptically to taste and comment. It was surprisingly good, but it was still a little too bitter to be dessert. Alan suggested using a regular stout instead of an extra stout. Kemp proposed chocolate ice cream, instead of vanilla. Ruth Cousineau restated her dislike of hops. "I’m not a good person to taste anything with beer in it," she pointed out. The next day we tried no fewer than four versions of the Guinness Float with different beers, ice cream flavors and amounts of blackberry. In the end we added a little more brandy than the original, stuck with vanilla ice cream, and used the less bitter stout. The recipe from inception to print gained from the input of at least 6 different people—and everyone was thrilled with the end result. What do you think?

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