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. Hank Shaw brought over some sassafras roots he foraged while on the East Coast and he cooked up the most amazingly delicious root beer with 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
- Vanilla ice cream
- Root beer
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.