Talking to Tyler Malek is a lot like talking to a brewer. He may be an ice cream baron, but his nth-degree devotion to the artisanal consumables he produces, and celebratory respect for local craftspeople, is right up there with similar ideals held by members of San Diego’s brewing community. I first sought out Malek after being impressed by the wide-ranging innovation behind his frosty wares at his recently opened Salt and Straw ice cream parlor in Little Italy.
At the newest link in a family-run, Pacific-coastal chain originating in Portland, I found imaginative flavors — Maple Peanut Butter Brioche French Toast, Avocado and Oaxacan Chocolate Fudge, and even a variety built to taste like loaded nachos — on a menu that changes every four weeks. The San Diego venue also offers flavors incorporating ingredients from local purveyors, such as James Coffee Co., Modern Times Beer, and Belching Beaver Brewery.
“We have a lot of fun with our ever-evolving flavors and see our ice cream as a soapbox to talk about ingredients from local providers,” said Malek. “Going into San Diego, we saw the huge parallel with what we have in Portland. No two cities are closer in terms of breweries and innovation. In fact, Modern Times was moving into the spot vacated by our friends at The Commons Brewery around the same time we were coming to San Diego, and they introduced us to the folks at Belching Beavery.”
Salt & Straw has since collaborated with both breweries, but in marrying his ice cream with their beers, Malek went in two completely different directions. Recognizing the intense flavors in Belching Beaver’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout, he looked to amplify them even more by steeping the beer in the grains that make up its specialty malt bill, then adding more cocoa character care of salty, chocolate-dipped fried pork rinds. And after tasting the layered flavors of Modern Times’ Thermometer Island, a red wine barrel-aged saison flavored with Cara Cara and blood oranges, Malek felt inspired to replicate those flavors in sherbet form. Tools for that project included blood orange juice, rosewater, hops, ice cream made from a combination of coconut cream and cashew milk, plus the beer itself.
Already, this isn’t your everyday ice cream stop, and Malek has even more in store for beer-loving patrons (as soon as he acquires a liquor license for the Little Italy store): beer-and-ice-cream floats. The concept is not new to our area, but Malek’s expertise and attention to detail with this niche delicacy certainly are. He is currently working on a Salt & Straw cookbook and recently finished a chapter all about incorporating beer, including doing so with floats. The following are some key tips he was happy to share ahead of the book’s release later this year.
A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit (More) of That:
Over the course of seven years in the frozen dessert biz, Malek has found that four ounces of ice cream to ten ounces of beer is the magic ratio. He realizes most beer is packaged in 12- or 16-ounce servings and considers the leftover a happy bonus for the float maker.
The Perfect Scoop:
Instead of a dense, packed scoop like one would find atop a cone, Malek prefers to lightly skim the top of a fresh pint or carton of ice cream to get what he calls a “hollow scoop.” That’s the kind you typically see on television commercials where a thin ribbon rolls over itself into a cylinder of sorts. This allows for better integration with the liquid in the glass.
Malek says much of Salt & Straw’s success with beer and ice cream pairing is that they can customize the latter, but when trying to find over-the-counter ice cream to pair with beer, he is particularly cognizant of hops, which match up well with sugar, but not with fat.
Using the Whole Freezer Aisle:
Don’t forget about sherbets (frozen fruit juice combined with milk or cream) and sorbets (frozen fruit juice). Malek says funky farmhouse ales and sour fermentations go exceptionally well with these lower-fat desserts. When creating a grapefruit sherbet with Myrtle, a citrus saison from The Commons, he said he couldn’t tell where the sorbet stopped and the beer began. In other words, it was the perfect pairing.
Think Outside the Carton:
As with any pairing medium, surprises abound. Sometimes combining items that don’t sound like they’ll work yields surprisingly delicious results. Case in point: Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ Seizoen Bretta, a champagne-like saison bottle-conditioned with pear juice that Malek combined with…sweet cream and chocolate fudge? It sounds crazy, but the bubble gum and prickly pear nature of the low acid beer worked well with similarly low acid, locally-roasted chocolate, proving that you just never know.
Not everything has to be a foray into uncharted culinary territory. Sometimes going with an obvious pairing is the best option. At the end of the day, good old fashioned vanilla ice cream is as versatile as the day is long, and good enough to be a go-with for the Salted Caramel Stout that Malek and company brew annually with their fellow Portlandians at Breakside Brewery.
That’s a lot of advice, and while there are some hard-fast tips to take to the bank (or the ice-cream aisle), like any mode of pairing, it will require a little trial…and maybe even some error. My recommendation is to start with a pint of the ice cream you’d like to use in your float, then select two or three beers you’d like to try it with. Take small glasses, scoop an ounce of the ice cream into each, then pour a little under three ounces of beer into each glass, wait a few minutes, then taste each to find which you like best. Once you’ve identified the ideal matchup, go with a full serving (and don’t forget to enjoy all that happy bonus beer).