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The Deconstructed Root Beer Float

This classic summer sipper gets a clever shake-up.

By Christina Barrueta | Photography by Debby Wolvos

A tall, frosty glass filled with scoops of cold vanilla ice cream bobbing in fizzy spiced root beer. Creamy bubbles rising to an overflowing frothy cap. The classic root beer float evokes youthful memories of summer days. For some, it might be roadside diners on a family vacation; for others, balmy afternoons at the neighborhood soda fountain or steamy nights at the local A&W drive-in. Perhaps it’s the creamy confection that results when the two components meld or the simplicity of its ingredients, but whatever the reason, it’s a nostalgic treat rooted in childhood recollections. 

“The root beer float was definitely a summertime staple growing up,” shares Lance Whipple, executive pastry chef at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North. “As a kid, my dad had me convinced that the ones I made were the best. He’d say ‘Hey, let’s have root beer floats, but you do it. You make them so much better than I do.’ Years later, of course, I realized it was a parental strategy so he wouldn’t have to make them, but maybe that went to my head. Now that I’m a chef, I still feel like I have to make the best.”

Whipple redefines this quintessential summer sipper into a modern, playful rendition that entices adults while still appealing to the child within. “In the culinary world, chefs are always putting their twist on things, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I flip it inside out?’” he explains. In his clever reversal, root beer takes the place of ice cream, and creamy vanilla replaces the soda.

The chef builds his float upon a refreshing root beer sorbet redolent with the hallmark aromas and flavors of the iconic soda. “I use classic root beer spices, such as cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and coriander, to give it a little more kick,” he describes. Scoops of sorbet are nestled in an effervescent blend of cream soda and sweet vanilla-scented
half-and-half, transforming the libation into a sophisticated interpretation of an old-fashioned classic.  

“Everybody loves a traditional root beer float,” notes Whipple, “but I wanted to create something a little more special.”

In reimagining the root beer float, pastry chef Lance Whipple says he “turned it inside out.” Root beer sorbet complements frothy sweet vanilla cream in this updated take on the beloved summer libation. 

“Inside Out” Root Beer Float 

Sweet Vanilla Cream

3 bottles cream soda

2 cups (16 ounces) half-and-half

3 tablespoons vanilla extract 

13 cup powdered sugar  

Pour half-and-half into a medium-size mixing bowl. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, and chill until needed. 

Root Beer Sorbet

212 cups (20 ounces) water

1 cup (8 ounces) sugar 

1 cup (8 ounces) root beer syrup 

2 cinnamon sticks 

12 teaspoon allspice berries

3 whole star anise

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

Ground coriander for garnish 

In a medium-size pot, combine water, sugar, root beer syrup and spices, and bring to a simmer. Slowly add powdered gelatin while stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and allow spices to steep for 30 minutes. Strain and chill completely. Spin the mixture in an ice cream maker according to machine directions.

Assembly

Place 2-3 scoops of Root Beer Sorbet into a tall chilled glass or mug. Pour bottled cream soda into the glass until approximately two-thirds full. Top float with Sweet Vanilla Cream. Finish with a dash of ground coriander. Serve with vanilla shortbread cookies.

Makes 8 floats

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