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And for Dessert, Suds on a Stick

By Greg Kitsock
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

If the Good Humor man had moonlighted as a bartender, he might have invented the Hopsicle.

But he didn't, and so credit goes to Frank Morales, executive chef at Rustico Restaurant and Bar in Alexandria. Rustico stocks about 280 brands of beer, and since taking over the kitchen in February, Morales has been happily incorporating them into his cuisine.

A mental lapse -- he left a bottle of beer in the freezer for three hours and it froze rock-hard -- led him to experiment with beer on a stick.

Rustico is offering its Hopsicles in plum, cherry, raspberry, banana and grape flavors. As a base, Morales uses Belgian fruit beers that are low in alcohol and minimally hopped.

He whisks the beer thoroughly to drive off carbonation, adds chopped-up fruit and two "secret ingredients," then heats the mixture to a boil. Once it's cooled, he pours it into molds shaped like a cylinder, a cone, a star and a rocket ship.

The Hopsicles have a slightly slushy texture and an intense fruitiness, with the beer adding extra layers of flavors. The banana pop has a dry, biscuity maltiness in the finish, as well as a faint hop bitterness. The plum displays some of the earthy flavor typical of Belgian lambics, beers that are exposed to the atmosphere and fermented spontaneously.

Not available when I stopped by was Morales's Stoutsicle, made with Young's Double Chocolate Stout, a British import flavored with crumbled-up Cadbury bars.

Rustico's Hopsicles earned the restaurant the quirky-item-of-the-day slot on the evening news, especially once he attracted the attention of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, but Morales has plenty of company when it comes to flavoring frozen desserts with beer. Google "beer" and "ice cream," and you'll come up with dozens of recipes.

Stout, a dark ale made from roasted grains that mimic bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavors, seems to be the preferred beer style. In her "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" (Knopf, 2005), Los Angeles chef Suzanne Goin includes a recipe for a Guinness ice cream flavored with molasses and vanilla extract. The Food Network Web site features an Emeril Lagasse formula for Guinness Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate-Honey Sauce. Last year, Ben & Jerry's released Black & Tan, a blend of "cream stout" ice cream (they don't say what brand) with chocolate swirls.

New York chef David Burke, working with the Sam Adams folks, recently released two recipes for "adult milk shakes" incorporating Samuel Adams Cream Stout and Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat.

Some diners might cringe at the thought of combining a children's treat with beer, but reducing the beer will often boil away most of the alcohol. An employee of York Castle Tropical Ice Cream in Silver Spring, which markets a Guinness-flavored ice cream, says there is "not enough to warrant carding anyone."

Susan Meyer, sous-chef at the Irish Inn at Glen Echo, doesn't recommend her Guinness Coffee Ice Cream for kids -- because of the caffeine from a coffee extract that's "sort of like espresso that's been made 10 times as strong."

Rustico's tussle with state officials was not for selling Hopsicles to minors (it doesn't). Rather, the ABC board thought that the restaurant might be violating an obscure state law that demands alcoholic beverages be stored in their original container until served to the customer. At issue are: Is beer still beer after it's been boiled down and used as a flavoring? Does allowing the beer to sit in a mold for an hour constitute "storage"?

"Go into a restaurant that uses wine as a food ingredient and you don't have these issues," grouses Morales, who also uses beer in soups, potpies, ragouts and even a peanut-butter-and-beer-jelly sandwich. But he added: "We've contacted the ABC board and we're trying to answer every one of their concerns." In fact, Morales's original Hopsicle recipes consisted of all beer, but he changed them to incorporate other ingredients in an effort to appease the ABC.

Unabashedly alcoholic are the beer floats that restaurateur Dave Alexander has been selling at RFD Washington ever since he opened the place in the District's Chinatown in 2003. Kitchen manager-chef David Hickman crafts peach and raspberry sorbets from Belgian fruit beers St. Louis Peche and Framboise, and an oatmeal stout-flavored chocolate ice cream. Then he pours 8 to 10 ounces of beer on top. The raspberry float, served in a goblet glass, is a frothy, sweet-and-sour refresher.

Hickman estimates his beer ice creams contain between 0.5 and 0.9 percent alcohol. He says of the chocolate, "Once I make it, I've got five minutes to get it to the freezer before it starts thawing out."

That's the rub with making ice cream with a kick. Ethyl alcohol solidifies at a much lower temperature (minus-173 degrees Fahrenheit) than water (32 degrees), and even small amounts of alcohol will lower the freezing point of a solution. Beer cookbook author Lucy Saunders notes that "you'll wind up with something that has more of a soft-serve consistency."

Saunders's Web site ( http://www.beercook.com/articles/beericecream.htm) contains such recipes as Apricot Ale Frozen Custard and Spicy Spiked Ice Cream.

Rustico's Morales, meanwhile, says his fall menu will contain a beer banana split, with a different beer in every component and perhaps a sprinkling of crushed peanut brittle with flaked fresh hops.

It sounds like the ultimate adult dessert.

Greg Kitsock can be reached atfood@washpost.com.

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