There’s an undeniable appeal to any combination of “childhood” treats and “adult” indulgences, as proven by the mass popularity of boutique cupcakes, the college-party ubiquity of Jello shots and vodka-soaked gummy bears, and the many restaurant menus that include items like upscale Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes. Some of these grown-up versions of kids’ favorites turn out better than others, and we’re pleased to give one especially successful example its fair dues: the liquor-spiked milkshake.
Spirited shakes are a regular sight on restaurant dessert lists (with some ice cream parlors even choosing to specialize in alcohol-fueled confections), but they’re also easy to re-create at home, as long as you have a solid game plan and the correct supplies. Ready to take on the spiked milkshake challenge? Then read on for expert tips and 3 excellent recipes to get you started.
Put some thought into your spirit-ice cream flavor blends.
Technically, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to pair spirits and ice cream; tastes vary, and you should feel free to choose a combination that speaks to you. However, certain flavors vibe especially well together, and our expert sources pointed out four blends well worth a try:
Vanilla Ice Cream and Bourbon
Tasting notes for bourbon whiskey often include “hints of vanilla,” so it stands to reason that bourbon makes an ideal addition to a vanilla milkshake. “My absolute favorite ice cream and spirit combination is bourbon with classic vanilla ice cream. Bourbon usually has hints of vanilla, oak, and caramel by itself, [and it] complements a sweet dessert such as vanilla ice cream very well. Topping it off with a Bordeaux cherry and even some drippings from the Bordeaux cherry jar makes this spiked milkshake something special,” explains California-based chef and recipe developer Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon.
The team behind the historic Hollywood Tavern in Woodinville, Washington also loves bourbon with vanilla ice cream, but they add bananas to the mix, resulting in a “banana split milkshake” with major nostalgia value. “Simple, but a great summer milkshake!” they say of this treat, which features a swirl of chocolate syrup and crushed peanuts on top.
Coffee Ice Cream and Irish Cream
The sweet and velvety liqueur known as Irish cream already has plenty of dessert cred, and it (unsurprisingly) fits beautifully into spiked milkshake recipes. Creative director Courtney Wright of Black Tap in New York City enjoys the classic combination of Irish cream and coffee ice cream, telling us that “my favorite combo is Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream with Bailey’s Irish Cream. I have an odd obsession with coffee ice cream, and the sweet nature of Bailey’s pairs perfectly!”
Caramelized Honey Ice Cream with Tawny Port or Sherry
Dessert wines like port and sherry are traditionally paired with sweets. So, in a sense, pouring a hearty glug of dessert wine into a milkshake just simplifies the process. Owner Juliet Pries of The Ice Cream Bar in San Francisco says, “My favorite ice cream/spirit combo is caramelized honey ice cream with tawny port or sherry. The honey pairs well with them, and the small amount of bitterness from the caramelization helps cut the sweetness.”
Strawberry Ice Cream with Gin and Rhubarb Liqueur
Seasonal fruits like strawberries and rhubarb add a refreshing twist to a boozy milkshake, and operating partner Kendall Lockwood of Baby’s Restaurant in Indianapolis says that “[I like to make] a strawberry milkshake with Citadelle Gin and Giffard Rhubarb Liqueur. This particular flavor combination gives you the right amount of zip and an overall nostalgic vibe. Strawberry and rhubarb obviously go hand in hand, but the citrus notes in the gin really add a brightness [for] a little something extra. A great boozy milkshake is created by combining flavors harmoniously. Condensed milk is key to a rich, creamy flavor.”
Use a premium ice cream with high fat and sugar content.
Whether you’re making a regular milkshake or a spiked version, the quality of your ice cream substantially affects your end product. “I highly recommend an ice cream that is high in fat and sugar. This helps make the milkshake super creamy and rich, with lots of flavor. My go-to [brands] would be Häagen Dazs or Ben and Jerry’s. [At Black Tap,] we always start with vanilla ice cream, then add in whatever flavor profile [we want],” says Wright.
For a richer, denser shake, pick up some gelato.
Gelato, a signature frozen dessert of Italy, contains less air and is churned at a lower speed than ice cream, resulting in a smooth, rich, luxurious flavor and texture. Owner Meridith Ford of Cremalosa gelateria in Decatur, Georgia believes that gelato’s unique consistency gives it an advantage as a base for spiked milkshakes: “I think gelato is better than ice cream [for milkshakes] in lots of ways! When it’s made the traditional Italian way, it is smoother and creamier than ice cream. Because of the way it is churned, it can be kept at a [higher] temperature, so it remains softer for a longer period of time. All of which is to say that yes, when it’s combined into a boozy shake, it tastes terrific! The combination of sweet cream with alcohol is hard to beat. (I’m reminded of “The Dude“ [from The Big Lebowski] and his notorious love of White Russians).”
A powerful blender will yield a better milkshake texture.
Some spiked-milkshake aficionados prefer to use soft-serve ice cream to make their frozen drinks, citing its softer and lighter texture as a necessity for a frothy and thoroughly whipped shake. Beverage director Abigail Gullo of Ben Paris in Seattle counts herself among this number, but she has a useful recommendation for anyone working with standard hard ice cream: “In lieu of having your own soft serve machine and milkshake spinner, a good blender (like a ) can still make a good milkshake. Just don’t skimp on the ice cream. Local Pacific Northwest favorite [ice cream shop] Salt & Straw uses a whole pint in its shakes … that is where y’all should start! And start that blender on low and slowly add power, and crushed ice, if needed.”
Swapping in half-and-half for regular milk will compensate for the liquor’s thin texture.
Being a liquid ingredient, spirits can have a thinning effect on a milkshake, which may result in a compromised texture. If you’d like to eliminate that risk, do what executive pastry chef Jeremy Harville of Mr. Trustee Creamery in San Diego does and “sub ]in] half & half instead of milk. This will help you keep a thicker milkshake consistency [in spite of] the liquor’s thinness.”
If you want to make a dairy-free spiked milkshake, use coconut-milk ice cream.
Dairy-free ice cream is having a moment right now, and it’s entirely possible to make a fantastic spiked milkshake without relying on lactose. That said, a milkshake sans dairy must utilize a richer plant-based “ice cream” as its foundation, like a version made with coconut milk. “Since [these ice creams are] made with coconut milk, they don’t curdle or separate like similar dairy products [sometimes] do when they’re mixed with alcohol. The coconut milk base easily complements any type of alcohol without making a shake too sweet,” explains social media strategist Ashley Morris of Coconut Bliss.
These three milkshake recipes blend ice cream and spirits together both masterfully and flavorfully:
Brooklyn Blackout Shake
(By Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, NYC)
A Black Tap menu staple, the Brooklyn Blackout Shake doesn’t apologize for its over-the-top indulgence, and that’s why visitors from all over the world flock to this New York restaurant for its cake-garnished blend of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and chocolate chips. The addition of Bailey’s both highlights the existing flavors and contributes a little something extra (alcohol, of course).
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
- .75 cup plus 2 tbsps whole milk
- 3.5 cups vanilla ice cream
- 1/3 cup chocolate syrup
- 4 oz Irish cream liqueur (Black Tap uses Bailey’s)
- 6 tbsp chocolate frosting, for garnish
- Mini chocolate chips, for garnish
- Whipped cream, for garnish
- 2 chocolate-frosted chocolate cupcakes, for garnish
- Frost the top 1.5 inches of two 16-ounce glasses with the chocolate frosting. Press the chocolate chips into the frosting all around the glass.
- Combine the milk, ice cream, Bailey’s, and chocolate syrup in a blender and blend until creamy, about 1 minute.
- Squeeze some chocolate syrup along the inside rim of each glass so it drips down. Divide the shake between the two glasses.
- Top each shake with whipped cream, more chocolate chips and drizzled chocolate syrup.
- Press the cupcake onto the rim of each glass (you can also insert a long-handled spoon or butter knife vertically through the center of the cupcake, and then place the end of the spoon or knife in the shake to help the cupcake stay upright). Add a straw and serve immediately. Makes 2 milkshakes.
Party Like It’s Your Birthday
(By Melissa Tavss, founder, Tipsy Scoop, NYC)
“One of my favorite spiked milkshake recipes in our new cookbook is the cake batter vodka ice cream shake. At our ‘barlour,’ we make it with our Cake Batter Vodka Martini ice cream and Prosecco, because the ice cream already has amaretto, cake-flavored vodka, and white chocolate liqueur in it, but you can also make it at home if you have those spirits. It’s a creamy, boozy shake, and the perfect grown-up birthday party drink!” says Melissa Tavss of this potent and celebratory spirited shake.
- 1 pint vanilla ice cream
- 1 cup cake-flavored vodka
- ½ cup amaretto
- ¼ cup white chocolate liqueur
- Rainbow sprinkles, for garnish
- Lime wedges, for garnish
- Put rainbow sprinkles on a small plate. Wet the side of your champagne coupe or flute with juice from lime wedge. Rim side of glass with rainbow sprinkles, set aside.
- Add ice cream and liquors to your blender, blend until smooth.
- Pour into prepared glasses, and garnish with more rainbow sprinkles. Makes 4 milkshakes.
(By Matthew Reysen, bartender, Dante, NYC)
“My biggest suggestion when creating a milkshake-based cocktail is to really let the ice cream and spirit combination play off of each other in a way where they are both complemented,” Matthew Reysen tells The Manual. For this milkshake project, which Reysen named after the Australian whisky that inspired the drink, “I really wanted to choose a certain ice cream that would amplify the flavors that I really enjoyed about sipping Starward. To do this, I first tried Starward Two-Fold Double Grain Whisky in a Manhattan and [then in a] Negroni to see which flavors were most pronounced to me. With a Negroni, I really appreciated the fruity berry notes that came out due to its pairing with Campari. With the Manhattan, I got a beautiful malty vanilla quality.” These cocktail experiments led Reysen to use raspberry cheesecake ice cream as his shake base, with the addition of dark chocolate to set off the fruit and vanilla notes of both the ice cream and the whisky.
- 2-3 scoops raspberry cheesecake ice cream (Reysen prefers Talenti Raspberry Cheesecake)
- 1.5 oz blended whisky/whiskey (Reysen prefers Starward Two-Fold Whisky)
- 3 oz whole milk
- 0.5 oz. Amontillado sherry
- 2 pieces of dark chocolate (Reysen prefers Valrhona Dark Chocolate)
- 1-2 ice cubes
- Raspberries, dark chocolate, and white chocolate, for garnish
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blend for a couple seconds until smooth.
- Serve in a chilled pint glass and garnish with fresh raspberries and shaved dark and white chocolate.
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