A food label stops being boring when it starts reading like a prescription for a happy weekend. For those who believe that all chocolate ice cream aspires to be stridently rich or all vermouth to be a strait-laced Manhattan, the tasting notes printed at the back of The Ice Cream Bar’s Bartenders Series proves that relief for a heat wave can come in the form of something other than a martini glass and a swizzle stick.
Downing a swig of Bacardi before the clock strikes five may sound imprudent, but a daiquiri furnished with freshly popped corn kernels and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce is just a naughty dessert you can raise a toast and a spoon in one fell scoop.
The Ice Cream Bar’s latest alcoholic release is a treat you can enjoy without resorting to sense or scruples; one you need not dutifully hold off on until the last course. Think of it as an instant aperitif or a summer spritz that has been diffused and amplified with milk or cream, and that does not need to be whipped up from scratch.
To reimagine classic cocktail flavours into frozen concoctions that alleviate palate fatigue, the artisanal ice cream parlour has partnered with an ascendant crew of bartenders from three local establishments — Coley, JungleBird and Mizukami Collective — as well as rum company Bacardi for a nouveau twist.
“We decided to work with C K Kho from Coley, Lolita Goh from JungleBird and Shawn Chong from Mizukami Collective (also of Omakase + Appreciate fame) because their establishments are some of the top cocktail bars in Malaysia. Plus, the bartenders have also played a huge role in the local cocktail scene. As for Bacardi, we chose to feature a flavour featuring its rum because the company has always been supportive of our venture into alcoholic ice cream,” says co-founder Lim Shiew Li, who also owns Inside Scoop with her husband Edmund Tan.
The Bartenders Series does not present ice cream in a cone (for that, you will need to purchase directly from the store), packing all its boozy goodness into a 250ml can instead. The compact design deprives us of the joy of licking straight from a tub but makes up for it with the guarantee of freshness since it creates an airtight seal to prevent ice crystals from forming. The only decision necessary is the point at which you switch from spoon to drinking it right from the can.
We are constantly sold the idea that enjoying a single ice cream flavour is optimal because if it is good enough, it will sustain interest. However, this belief was debunked when The Ice Cream Bar amalgamated alcoholic ingredients that complement each other without knocking us off our feet.
“The bartenders [each] came up with a cocktail that they felt could be turned into a great ice cream flavour. Some were existing cocktails, and some were made especially for this collaboration. We tried the cocktails and turned them into ice cream based on our interpretation of the flavours. The final result was fine-tuned after numerous rounds of tweaking and feedback from the bartenders. The best part for us was definitely the R&D process!” Lim explains.
When asked to devise his signature flavour, Mizukami’s Chong chose the Mapled Churchill, a riff on the original Scotch whisky and vermouth elixir he has perfected during his years behind the bar and guest shifts at other renowned drinking joints. Concocted from Jim Beam white label and maple honeycomb, the ice cream version boasts an intense bourbon flavour with notes of toasted oak, rounded off with a citrusy herbaceous tang from lime custard and vermouth. History has it that legendary bartender Joe Gilmore used red vermouth to create Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple whenever he patronised The Savoy in London. Could sweetened whisky have started then? Legends do not tell.
Elsewhere, another slice of history has been worked into Goh’s JungleBird, which induces the sort of languor one might properly feel in the hot sun, next to the beach. The quintessential Malaysian cocktail created by the late Jeffrey Ong at the KL Hilton Aviary Bar in 1973 has spawned so many forms and variations you could either perceive them as heretical or heavenly. Yet, the series’ Campari ice cream, swirled together with bright pineapple lime sorbet, tastes like an intense distillation of the real tipple, leaving our mouth buzzing with a tinge of warmth from the Diplomatico Mantuano rum. Befitting a drink that rewards leisure, this summery sip is an exuberant party all on its own.
Think what you will of absinthe, the anise-flavoured spirit that has conjured up a reputation that is equally glamourised and demonised. Poems were written in the 19th century extolling this “green muse” but it has seeped back into the mainstream in recent years, thanks to mixology stalwarts like Kho of Coley, who forges an unlikely alliance between absinthe angelique and Frangelico hazelnut liqueur. Traditionally, absinthe is best enjoyed diluted with a splash of water, whereupon it releases a herbal bouquet in a shade of green, but at The Ice Cream Bar, Kho’s modern iteration is a delicious act of resistance. The convention-defying Absinthe Frangelico sings with dark chocolate hazelnut and vanilla notes, played up by a minty kick that punctuates each bite.
If the first three flavours flood your palate with a fleeting decadence, the Popcorn Daiquiri made in partnership with Bacardi weighs you down with a full-bodied ice cream. Crunching down on the popcorn generously coated in buttered caramel is both a celebration and consolation, as this little ritual compensates for the cinemas trips we could not make. Amping up the mixture with maple roasted almond may split opinion, bringing to mind a plateful of festive tarts, but the honeyed aftertaste stops short of being overly cloying.
Pernickety connoisseurs will be intransigent about how a good cocktail ought to be made, but the many interpretations by The Ice Cream Bar have ensured that the character of the drinks are fairly intact or, better, elevated. The rewards are twofold: The cocktail radiates the promise of a buzzy good time, while the ice cream elicits joy. As the pandemic has thrust us into the unknown, it seems only fitting that we spend the days ahead seeking comfort in a way we know best: With a spoon firmly stuck in an ice cream bowl.
This article first appeared on Oct 4, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.