Root Beer Float

Do you remember the first time you had a root beer float? I do. I must have been around 7 years old and we were visiting my grandparents in Phoenix, in the summer. Have you ever been to Arizona in the summer? Must be why I find Sacramento so tolerable. Let’s just say it’s hot. I still remember all of us greedy kids, still in our swim suits, having been cooling off in the pool all day, lined up in the kitchen, wide eyed as we watched my father scoop ice cream into tall glasses, and then slowly pour root beer over them. The concoction would start to foam up and sometimes spill over (of course we would lick the sides of the glass when that happened). The foam would eventually recede a bit and we would get another dose of root beer to top us off. Then we would poke at the ice cream with our straws until it dislodged from the sides of the glass and floated to the surface. Sometimes he added the scoops of ice cream to our root beers. But usually it was ice cream first, because then you could control the foam up more carefully. If you just add a scoop of ice cream to root beer, better be ready to catch all the foam as it comes erupting over the sides.

Next to a vinegar and baking soda volcano, a root beer float is God’s gift to chemistry experiments for kids. Not that we cared at all about the chemistry. Where does the foam come from? Little bubbles of carbonation sticking to the sides of the ice cream and attracting other bubbles until the bubbles get really big and float to the surface. (You can read all about it here.) And why does the ice cream float? Because it’s ice cream, churned with air and composed of a lot of fat, both which are lighter than water.

Now if you really want to get all Martha on us you can make your own root beer from scratch, and serve it with homemade vanilla ice cream. In many parts of the states sassafras grows wild, and you can easily make sassafras root beer from it. If you have access to sassafras, I highly recommend giving it a go!

Do you have a favorite childhood memory about root beer floats? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Root Beer Float Recipe

Ingredients

  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Root beer

Method

Spoon a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream into a tall glass. Slowly pour root beer into the glass, allowing the foam to rise and then recede before adding more root beer.

Serve with straws and spoons.

Links:

Sassafras and homemade root beer from Hank of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Root beer float cupcakes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen
Root beer float cake from Joy the Baker
Where the bubbles come from
Origins of the ice cream soda
Reverse root beer float from Frozen Fix

Root Beer Float on Simply Recipes

74 Comments

  1. Dara

    This is, hands down, my sons’ favorite dessert. My husband makes the floats for them, which is a tradition passed on by his own dad. I feel like a kid whenever I sip on one.

  2. Amanda

    I have to admit that I’ve never tried a Root Beer float. The idea of root beer mixed with ice cream, a dairy product, always turned me off. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of soda + dairy = yum. Perhaps I’ll have to give it a try…

  3. LaVonne Ellis

    So that’s what sassafras is, root beer! I followed your link on Twitter because I couldn’t believe there’s a recipe for root beer floats, heh. Love the story. And LOVE root beer floats. MMM.

  4. Sarah

    I grew up in my parents’ ice cream store, so I am a root beer float pro!
    The secret to my root beer floats is to mix a tablespoon of ice cream and root beer at the bottom of the glass, and then add the scoops of ice cream and root beer. Always delicious.

  5. Sandy

    My first rootbeer floats were enjoyed with my brother’s Little League team at the A & W in our little town. Everybody climbed into the back of someone’s pick-up after a hard fought victory. No baseball for the girls back then, but the taste of a rootbeer float was almost as sweet as my brother’s win. Even today, rootbeer floats with the grandkids are a highlight and treat during those dog days of summer!

  6. Amy

    I love rootbeer floats and remember getting them at a drive-in in Valparaiso, Indiana where they made homemade rootbeer.

    My only concern now is how hard it is to find rootbeer without HFCS – I’ve been using diet rootbeer but it’s not the same :(

  7. Ben

    The biggest secret to great RB floats is chilled glasses. Put your glass mugs into the freezer for 30-60 mins before preparing. You get nice root beer ice shards.

  8. thekevinmonster

    My favorite part of a root beer float is the root beer ice that forms around the submerged ice cream. (You need to start with very cold root beer for maximum effect.)

    Also, for those who think it would be odd to put dairy in root beer, try putting chocolate ice cream in diet coke. That’s even odder.
    Chocolate and coke taste terrible together, except in the form of a chocolate ice cream diet coke float. I kid you not. (It’s still probably an acquired taste.)

    Other interesting floats: vanilla ice cream and guiness and vanilla ice cream and mike’s hard cranberry (for something alcoholic in both cases.)

  9. Mary

    This is a nice treat for those hot summer days. I like to blend it up and drink it like a malt. My grandson loves them, too.

  10. Peggy

    My childhood memory is the NYC Egg Cream. You take an 8oz. frosted Coke glass and pour 1″ Fox’s U Bet Chocolate Syrup and 1″ Milk, stir and then add Seltzer. It will fizz up, just like the Root Beer Float, but it is proper to sip it fast, before the fizz of the seltzer goes flat. No, there are no eggs or cream in this, but that is the original NYC Egg Cream. Try it, I guarantee you will love it…..

  11. SMITH BITES

    Hadn’t had a Root Beer Float in YEARS – until we went to Santa Cruz for vacation last month. Had lunch at Paradise Beach Grille in Capitola and ordered a Root Beer Float for dessert; the best part was that they brought a small carafe filled w/extra root beer so you could keep adding to your glass – making the ‘crunchies’ on the outside of the ice cream – divine!

  12. Sylvie

    Rootbeer floats…brings back the best memories from childhood. We didn’t get them often, so they were always a treat.

  13. Diane Hayes

    I do I do! A&W Rootbeer, on Third Street, Dubuque, Iowa. The thick syrup in the bottom of the gallon jug- we all wanted to be last, only for that.
    Thick sweet root beer and creamy vanilla ice cream yum! Thanks for the memories!

  14. Bronwyn

    I think root beer tastes like cough medicine! But my childhood treat when visiting my Nan & Pop was a Spider. No idea why it’s called a spider but it’s the NZ & Aus name for a ‘float’. We had it with vanilla ice cream & orange, lime or raspberry fizzy drink. Pop often used to make the soda water with an old fashioned soda syphon then add flavour. Either way – it was my favourite. I wonder if root beer tastes any better with ice cream?

  15. Christine

    FYI: Warren Buffett’s favorite sweet treat is a root beer float. Which obviously means that consuming more root beer floats will make you richer. That reminds me, I need to add root beer to the grocery list… :)

  16. georgia

    I love root beer but can’t stand sassafras. We have lots of sassafras on our acerage but only our son ever makes sassafras tea and wants it hot. It smells and tastes like medicine to me. I love root beer floats but my favorite float is vanilla icecream with strawberry soda poured over. I think I’ll get some vanilla icecream and a strawberry soda soon and have a childhood memory drink.

  17. Hillary

    Ahh.. I’ve never actually had a root beer float, mainly because I have a bit of a disliking for root beer, though I’m liking it more than I did before. I remember going into Kroger, and there was a lady giving out free Coke floats. It was odd walking around Kroger, with my dad and sister, with me being the only one drinking a float. But, good ol’ memories. :)

  18. Joelle

    Using chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla is a delightful and yummy way to get one’s chocolate fix. Even the nuts in a rocky road ice cream go extremely well with the root beer.

  19. angela

    My dad would make them for us also as kids.
    But he would use a scoop of vanilla icecream ,a scoop of orange sherpert and orange soda. He would make lime ones with a scoop of vaniila icecream, scoop of lime sherpert and 7 up. Delicious!

    Wow, those sound great! ~Elise

  20. Jennifer

    I grew up in the 50′s in a small town in northeastern Massachusetts and was one of seven kids. My parents seemed to have an endless supply of simple family activities that became unforgettable traditions that we all still talk about when we are together. One of the fondest memories I have is working as a team in the kitchen, making root beer from the little bottle of Hires “magic”. We would set up an assembly line that started with washing and sterilizing a supply of green bottles and moved along through the filling station using a funnel to the end where my oldest brother would use a red metal bottle capper to seal the tops. We would then lie them in a wooden box on their sides, wrapped in newspaper, and store them in a dark damp section of the cellar for what seemed like an eternity until the root beer was ready. Add some hand-churned vanilla ice cream and we were in heaven! Thanks for bringing it back!

  21. Jose

    I love the summers in Phoenix. I miss the desert, although I equate root beer floats with summer vacations to the midwest with the grandparents. Had one the day before yesterday at one of those great seasonal midwestern walk-up ice-cream shops. Awesome. I love your blog btw, great stuff.

  22. islandexile

    My father made and stored root beer in the garage of our Sacramento home. It was one of our favorite parts of the long, hot summers, along with running through sprinklers and playing volley ball after dark. We loved the floats and mourned every bottle that exploded (something to do with the heat & yeast he told us)and was lost. Thanks for bringing back those sweet memories!

    I love running through sprinklers on a hot day. Almost 50 and I still do it. ;-) ~Elise

  23. rebecca h.

    Oh, good memories.

    In my (then small) hometown all the shops closed at 5pm, except on Thursdays, when the little local shopping complex stayed open until 9pm. On every Thursday of my childhood and adolescence my mom and I did the grocery shopping at six o’clock, and every Thursday before we did the shopping we would have a snack in the same coffee shop. It was a big deal. Our family didn’t eat out unless it was a special occasion, not even in coffee shops. We would share a simple sandwich, Mom would order a pot of tea for herself and I would always have a root beer float. I would manage to agitate it every time and it would overflow every time. The waitress always brought it with two saucers to catch the inevitable overflow.

    As a teenager trying to be sophisticated my drink order may have changed to mineral water or iced lattes but the Thursday tradition remained the same. Whenever I visit home I still go grocery shopping with my mom on Thursdays and these days I’m back to ordering root beer floats.

  24. amy

    I love rootbeer floats! My favorite thing is having the ice cream melt into the root beer. It’s the one of the best of many summer treats.

  25. Gerri

    The thing I like the best about root beer floats is what happens to the outside of the ice cream after pouring the root beer over it. There’s this interesting fusion that freezes the ice cream with the root beer, and makes a nice crunchy coating to the ice cream. Definitely my preferred way to have the float. That’s why I don’t like soft serve ice cream in floats. No nifty crust.

    Also delicious is a float made from Squirt and vanilla ice cream.

  26. Anna

    As with others, my favorite part is the frozen, crunchy rootbeer/ice cream mixture that refreezes. Mmmmm. I’ve also had orange sherbet in rootbeer. It’s totally different, but also good!

  27. Candice

    I’ve never really been a fan of rootbeer, but I do enjoy the occasional Coke/Chocolate Ice Cream float, made in the same way. This concoction doesn’t foam as much as rootbeer does, either.

  28. ChiLibrarian

    A few times a summer we’d do a family drive-in night. We kids in our jammies, we’d drive-in for dinner, including root beer floats for dessert, then on to the drive-in movie double feature. Everyone under 10 would fall asleep before the second feature even started. The drive-in restaurant is long gone, but the movie theater is still in business.

  29. Heather

    Try vanilla ice cream and orange soda in a float. It’s just like a creamsicle! I think over the years I have had pretty much every ice cream/soda combination as a float. I also love egg creams and ice cream sodas.

  30. Lake

    I remember rootbeer floats in the 1950′s. Yes I am old. My girlfriend and I would get a dime or quarter to walk to the local drugstore with a soda fountain. We either got a rootbeer float or a chocolate coke. By the way, we called them “black cows” back then. This was in Des Moines, Iowa. We also started making them at home, a tradition I kept up with my daughter, and then my grandkids. My sister drank so many of them one time when she was a teenager that she got sick and wouldn’t touch them for years.

  31. Jenn

    The hotter the day, the more wonderful the root beer float! It is delicious, all of it, but I have a special appreciation for the “crust” that forms on the ice cream when it comes into contact with the root beer.

    I don’t know much about chemistry, but I know what I like!!! YUM!

  32. Teri K.

    I have Grandparents memories too. I remember my Grandma making them as a treat for us on a hot summer evening. She always used Hines Root Beer. We would play the board game Aggravation while drinking our root beer floats. Sweet memories!

  33. Nate @ House of Annie

    Root beer floats were one of my childhood favorites. Of course, ice cream and sodas always go together. Have you tried mint ice cream in Sprite? What a revelation :-)

  34. Carmen Henesy

    I remember all those A & W places that used to exist in the old days = root beer floats seemed to taste better there. I wouldn’t mind having one right now – those and banana splits were my favorites.

  35. David Sandford

    Even though I grew up near an A & W Drive-In my favorite was always an Orange float (Orange pop). I didn’t develop a taste for Root Beer untill I was in my 20′s.

    Speaking of Floats reminds me of a joke I made up in Grade School – It’s an off shoot of the first joke (which I didn’t invent – below).

    What’s green and red and goes eighty miles an hour in a circle?

    Answer: A frog in a blender.

    Now my joke:
    How do you make a frog float?

    Answer: You take ice cream and add it to the stuff in the blender.

    Yes, I know it’s gross, but what do you expect from an eight year boy?
    - I’m still kind of proud of it.

    Groan…! ~Elise

  36. Patty

    I lived in Rhode Island until I was 8 yrs. old and it was common to have a black cow…root beer with chocolate ice cream.

  37. Elaine

    My first memory is that of Grandma’s root beer floats. Now, my sweetie makes them for me. The glass is chilled in the freezer, and the root beer is ice cold. Nothing better that the hard frozen -crunchy- outside of the ice cream after it hits the cold root beer. Still my fav!

  38. Tau-Mu

    Yay root beer floats!

  39. LTWorth

    Just last week I bought some Thomas Kemper root beer & vanilla ice cream so that I could treat my kids to root beer floats!

  40. Susan @ SGCC

    I have similar “float” memories, except that mine were always made with Coke. Love them! In fact, sometimes I stop at Wendy’s drive thru to pick up a Coke float, and I’m instantly 9 years old again. ;)

  41. Leslie

    My best friend in high school had an older brother who was working as a brewer at a microbrewery. For her high school graduation party, he made a keg of root beer and they served root beer floats! It was a huge hit, a great idea for any kind of outdoor summer party.

  42. Justine

    I will definitely have to swing by the store for some float “fixens” tonight!

    I remember standing with my sister in the kitchen(also in our bathing suits) waiting for grandpa to make us root beer floats :-)

  43. AlaskaPat

    I had a root beer float last night, the first in about 5 years. Yummy. Always a fav treat. Anybody ever try vanilla ice cream with cream soda or cherries? Childhood memories are of maraschino cherries floating in the bottom of the tall float glass at the lunch counter in Woolworths. Creamy pink and delicious! Thanks for the memory evoking recipe Elise.

  44. Bruce in Gold Beach

    Ahhhhh, the heat of summer in Sacramento, family outings to Folsom Lake and a stop at the A&W in Folsom for a Root Beer Float on the way home. What a wonderful memory! Root Beer Floats are still one of my favorite pleasures in life.

  45. Itav

    My mother always made similar “float” except she made it with coffee (which is French original recipe) and it’s delicious too.

  46. Natalie

    Root Beer floats were a nice family treat in our house. Many summer nights we were go to the local A&W drive up and order just those. We almost never ate out, and we weren’t allowed to eat or drink in the car except for this Root Beer float exception.

    Sometimes my dad would stop at the A&W and get a gallon of their root beer and bring it home for a treat too!

    Another treat not mentioned by anyone was something called a Boston Cooler in our area. It was made from Vernors (yep from the Detroit area) Ginger Ale and vanilla ice cream. It was my mom’s favorite.

  47. Susan

    My first rootbeer float was at my Grandparents home. They had a seltzer service (they entertained alot!) that brought bottles of seltzer and bottles of various syrups that they ordered. The delivery was placed in an insulated box, like the one the milk delivery used, that sat on the back porch. (they both worked, hence the delivery in the back door box) They always got coke, rootbeer, cherry and grape syrups for mixing with the seltzer. My favorite was the coke and cherry syrup mix. It was great that you could mix your soda as strong or weak as you liked! My favorites were coke, cherry and vanilla ice cream or good old rootbeer, both with extra syrup!

  48. JoanneNicole

    It’s funny, Elise, that your first memory of a root beer float was at your grandparent’s house in Phoenix, and that you now live in Sacramento. My first memory of a root beer float was at my grandparent’s house in Sacramento, and I now live in Phoenix. (And let me tell you, the heat is pretty much unbearable right now!)

    My granddad always made the rootbeer from scratch, and my grandma would churn the ice-cream. One of my fondest memories was the church Halloween party – every year my granddad would make his root beer and put it in a “cauldron” with a chunk of dry-ice. Spooky and delicious!

    We also had “Purple Cows” – Grape pop with vanilla ice-cream. One of my childhood favourites.

  49. Vanessa

    Great post! Why is it that most kids have to endure a few Phoenix summers as a child? I went almost every summer in my childhood years and I agree, it was torture!

    Love your blog :)

  50. Steve K

    I just love root beer floats. But it seems to me that most of what passes for root beer these days is too heavily carbonated. I like the old fashioned style that’s a bit heavier and just lightly carbonated.

    When making root beer floats, I sometimes open up the root beer a day or so ahead of time and pour it into a pitcher, so much of the CO2 is released.

  51. ken bolton

    I always found that a couple of spins with a spoon in the rootbeer before dropping in the ice cream would keep you from getting all foam and you would still have fizz. It’s a dry heat in AZ and the mornings are heaven.

  52. Linnea

    Summers in Arizona are hot, but at least its a dry heat. I’d rather be here than in Atlanta, for example. In how many places can you go swimming when it is 100 degrees and be cold when you get out of the water because the sun has set and there is a breeze? Plus, there is air conditioning everywhere! I love rootbeer floats! This sure brought back a lot of memories.

  53. Georgia Pellegrini

    What is it about dads and root beer floats? My dad introduced them to me too when I was little, and I still love them.

  54. Ann

    Hi, I didn’t read all the posts so I don’t know if anyone else already suggested this. One of my favorite variations on a root beer float is using strawberry ice cream instead of vanilla!

  55. Tina

    For those of you REALLY into the icy, crunchy root beery crust that forms in root beer floats…
    I detest diet sodas & believe that full-fat ice cream is the only way to go but… during a stint with Weight Watchers, someone recommended making a float with diet root beer (I used A&W) and diet ice milk. The diet soda part was not so bad and the ice crusties were bountiful. My guess is the low-fat in the ice milk creates more crunchy goodness.

  56. Laurie Martinez

    The best single thing I ever ate was a root beer float at A&W in Indio,CA, after a week of primitive camping in the hot, dirty, dusty, windy Mojave Desert. It was sweet, creamy, cold, and, best of all, sand-free! Even now, I think that a proper float must be made with A&W.

  57. Nina

    Root beer floats have been a 4th of July family tradition for as long as I can remember. We would all get in the station wagon and go to Baskin Robbins for root beer floats on our way to see fireworks. It doesn’t feel like Independence Day to me without those two things!

  58. Hillary

    Ahh.. I commented a couple days ago (I think), and I said I had NEVER had a RB float… well, I did a few days ago (2 or 3) and I LOVED it. But, I think I like it with vanilla ice cream and Coke more. :)

  59. Vickie

    Love this post! I have a recent rootbeer float memory – it will always be my favorite. My 5-year-old grandson just came for a visit and he got his first float. It was so fun to watch, that I blogged about it. http://montana2.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/camp-grandma/

  60. Betsy

    This is one of my favorites and one of the best desserts for those of us watching calories or sugar.

    For those of you with Diet restrictions, I use the low sugar Vanilla Ice Cream and Diet Root Beer, neither of which is great by themselves, but great in a float!

  61. Susan

    I rarely submit comments but this time I felt compelled. The other night at dinner my husband & I were reminiscing about root beer floats. I remember vividly when, as kids, I would get the rare treat to tag along with my older sister and her friends and drive to this wonderful homemade ice cream stand for floats.
    My sister always got chocolate ice cream with her root beer float when everyone knows it HAS to be vanilla. She would get teased every time but that didn’t stop her, she knew what she loved and to this day that’s how she orders them.
    It nice to see things never change when it comes to root beer floats.

  62. jmk

    My best memory of root beer floats is how much better they are when the root beer is ice cold, and the ice cream is premium. Cheap ice cream and warm root beer makes for a kind of icy-slushy thing.

  63. kim

    Ahhh…rootbeer floats! My family has always had them to accompany us during the summer. When in Disneyland we would get them at the Golden Horseshoe Resturant, and then eat them while we watch Fantasia, the water, fire, lazer show. I will never forget those nights.

  64. Marie M.C.

    It’s amazing how such a simple treat brings back the warm fuzzies of long summer evenings when we were six or seven — or sixteen. I grew up in San Francisco in the 1950s. The summers here are gloomy and cold. We were so fortunate to spend all our summers in Healdsburg. Healdsburg back in the 1950s was like Mayberry, RFD. Small town, no TVs, they changed the movie three times a week. They had an A&W Drive-In. The floats were served in ice cold mugs. Oh those summer nights.

    Thank you Elise for turning back the clock. Now all we need is that time machine.

  65. Banana

    A reply to Sandy, who said, “My only concern now is how hard it is to find rootbeer without HFCS – I’ve been using diet rootbeer but it’s not the same”

    Try Virgil’s Rootbeer, it’s made by Reed’s. You can find it at most supermarkets, and I know they sell it at Whole Foods. It’s sweetened with real sugar, no HFCS, and has such an incredible rootbeer flavor. They also make delicious ginger ale! :)

  66. claudia hardiman

    I love root beer floats. I had one just last week in Maine. It’s been more then thirty years since my last one. My favorite is with coffee ice cream. Mmmm good!

  67. George K.

    It was my dad as well who was master of the float at our house, but his choice of soda was 7-Up, truly delicious.

  68. Ruthie

    My boys are now in their 20′s but for 8 straight summers starting when the youngest was 4 and the oldest was 6 I struck out with the boys on an annual road trip. My husband couldn’t think of a more horrible way to spend a summer vacation but me? I was in heaven! So off we’d go exploring up and down the west coast hitting every tourist place from San Diego to Portland and every where in between. Somehow on most of those trips we found an A and W where I introduced my boys to the Original Root Beer Float! I don’t know how much of those 2 week trips they remember to this day but I bet they’ve never forgotten those Root Beer Floats!

  69. Laura

    try vanilla ice cream with orange pop!!! aaalmost better than a creamsicle.. almost! :)

  70. Kevin

    I love RB floats – you should also try “Purple Cows”! It is grape soda (I like Welch’s the best) and vanilla ice cream. You can also have a Dream Float and use orange soda & vanilla… I don’t support using Cream Soda -I tried it once and it made me throw up -it tasted fine, but WOW did it react bad!!

  71. Kimberly

    Thanks for the inspiration! We had root beer floats for dessert last night, and they were delicious. I had forgotten about the crunchy bits until I read through the comments here and sure enough, that was the best part! I used Boylan root beer, which is sweetened with cane sugar and tastes amazingly great.

  72. Sandy

    Root beer floats are good, but the best floats of my childhood were Vernor’s ginger ale floats! Vernor’s was a Detroit institution and had the best ginger ale–spicy and fizzy, with bubbles that leaped out of the glass into your face. (You can still get Vernor’s, but now it’s owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and it doesn’t quite have the same fizz and zing that I remember.)
    My favorite thing to do on a hot, sticky day was to pile in the car and head for the local Dairy Isle, where I always had a Vernor’s float. Yum!

  73. Melissa

    I grew up in Saskatchewan and we had root beer, orange, grape or cream soda floats as a treat at home or at the local A & W. In the winter, a float just didn’t seem appropriate so as kids, we’d often add 2 or 3 tablespoons of cream (like coffee cream) to our root beer. I know, seems disgusting but it really was delicious! Oh, and our name for this treat? Moose Milk of course!

    Love it! ~Elise

  74. Erin Walker ~ The Sisters Cafe

    I love that you posted this all-American treat. Rootbeer floats are loaded with memories for everyone, and such a great part of American culture! And yummy! :)

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