We Try Portland Craft Beer Ice Creams from Salt & Straw

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[Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

Portland, Oregon's Salt & Straw is known for churning up unusual ice cream flavors. We're big fans of their Coffee Bourbon ice cream, though we found last fall's rich and savory foie gras flavor a little challenging. In honor of Father's Day, they're launching a sixpack of beer-inspired ice creams featuring local breweries. (They'll be available in Portland scoop shops throughout June, and online for June through September.)

The flavors were created in collaboration with Portland brewers including Breakside Brewery, Gigantic Brewing Company, Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales, The Commons Brewery, and Widmer Brothers Brewing—but that doesn't mean that the Salt & Straw team just dumped some beer in the freezer. Instead, the flavors of individual brews were incorporated in a few unusual ways: for example, one ice cream base was cold-steeped in a barrel that was used to age the beer, while another ice cream was infused with the beer's Meridian hops.

These ice creams won't get you tipsy, but do they capture the Portland craft beer experience in frozen form? We love beer, and we love ice cream, but would we love beer-flavored ice cream? We gave the whole sixpack a taste to find out.

Hopped Farmhouse Ale

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This is a citrusy, creamy ice cream with a remarkable wort-like flavor, inspired by Commons Brewery's Myrtle Farmhouse Ale. Honeyed malt flavors work well with the creaminess and fudgy texture, though the finish is a little weird. The ice cream base was steeped with Meridian hops, which are known for their floral, lemony, citrus flavor. That totally comes through here—it's not piney or very bitter, so this flavor works pretty well as a dessert.

Cherry Adam from the Wood

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We recruited our beer columnist Mike Reis (of Monk's Kettle and Abbot's Cellar in San Francisco) to taste through these ice creams with us, and this was the one that got him most excited. "Dude, this is cool," said Reis. "Lots of bourbon character, lots of cherry." The malty cherry ice cream base was cold steeped in a bourbon barrel from Hair of the Dog Brewery. The result is boozy but not totally over the top—oaky and vanilla-y but not aggressively spiritous. You have to really like bourbon to be into this, but as long as you do, this is one to try, especially with some toasted nuts on top.

Bretta Fermented Pears and Fudge

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Inspired by David Logsdon's Cocoa Bretta Ale, this ice cream is based on pear juice and malted fudge syrup fermented with the yeast strain used for the beer. This ice cream has a bit of a funky fermented fruit character, and the results will seem totally weird to some. Though you might identify a pureed pear flavor, it's subtle. The malted fudge is quite malty and has an interesting fruity character that will please malted milkshake fans. "I like that is has a very unusual flavor profile," says Mike Reis. "Your palate becomes accustomed to the funkiness pretty quickly."

Passionfruit Berliner Weisse Marmalade in Coconut Water Sorbet

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This is one of the easiest in the bunch to love: sweet coconut sorbet with slim ribbons of marmalade made with Breakside Brewing's Passionfruit Berliner Weisse. The marmalade offers a nice bit of tartness, and the ice cream is super-delicious, but we'd love a more extreme lactic tang. This stuff is pretty refreshing, but a little more sourness might be fun.

IPA Upside Down Cake

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This is a seriously bitter IPA ice cream inspired by Gigantic Brewing Company's Imperial IPA. It has an almost mentholy hop flavor, and the ice cream base is filled with chunks of pineapple upside down cake and candied tangerine zest. "The pineapple comes through, and the tangerine zest. The flavors are all really nice," commented Reis. "But then you get that earthy, pine-like bitterness." All in all, the ice cream tastes a bit more like hops than like beer. "You're left with that plant-matter hop flavor," says Reis, and the bitterness reminded us a bit of bitter grapefruit pith.

Smoked Hefeweizen

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Rather than making an ice cream inspired by Widmer Brothers' classic hefe, Salt & Straw went a more extreme route here, smoking wheat malt and steeping it in the ice cream base. "Oooh man, that's really smoky," reacted Reis immediately. This ice cream has a pretty prominent bacony flavor—it's a lot like the Schlenkerla Rauchbiers. We could see this being served with a savory dish, or with bacon crumbles on top. A little dulce de leche might help, too.

Have you tried these beer-inspired scoops? What did you think?

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. She lives in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

Samples provided for review consideration.

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