14 Tried-And-True Liquors To Use In Ice Cream Cocktails

There is something deliciously delightful about an ice cream cocktail. They give us a sense of nostalgia that is rarely found these days. It reminds us of sipping A&W root beer floats at the lake during the summer after an evening of catching fireflies. And we aren't the only ones feeling these vibes, as after-dinner cocktails are some of the most popular drinks served in restaurants.

Classic frozen cocktails with creamy ice cream have been popular since the dessert's invention. This popularity grew exponentially in post-prohibition days after Americans garnered a taste for the icy delicacy enjoyed during prohibition when they could not legally drink alcohol. Using ice cream in a drink instead of just as a typical dessert made the end of an evening dining with friends that much more fun, with a boozy shot of alcohol enhancing the ice cream's sweetness.

Today, ice cream cocktails are making a comeback, with mixologists updating classic drinks while inventing new options to tempt sweet drink enthusiasts. We narrowed our list of possible inclusions in this article by recipe-testing various options to find the ideal combination of ice cream and liquor. As a trained sommelier, longtime wine and spirits writer, and cocktail enthusiast, creating flavorful drinks is my second nature. Drinks like the grasshopper and Brandy Alexander and classic concoctions like the pink squirrel, the Bushwacker, and Golden Cadillac feature a unique blend of liqueurs and spirits that enhance the ice cream base. Here are some of the best options to enjoy.

1. Bourbon

Ice cream milkshakes are delicious on their own. Fresh milk with frosty vanilla or chocolate ice cream is whirled together to create a thick, creamy shake, creating a scrumptious frozen childhood treat. However, we suggest taking your old-fashioned vanilla milkshake to the next flavor-packed level by adding bourbon to the mix. 

With a mash bill of at least 51% corn (the requirement to call itself a bourbon), this American liquor is aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years. The resulting brown whiskey has a natural roasted grain sweetness that marries well with the other ingredients in a milkshake, complementing the creamy flavors while adding layers of toasted spice, oak, and toffee to the drink. 

Not all bourbon production is similar, meaning some brands are better than others for mixing in a shake. We recommend a butterscotch, dried fig, and sweet caramel-filled bourbons, like Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark, to enhance a vanilla milkshake. A more robust flavored option like Bulleit or Four Roses delivers rich toffee, toasted baking spice, and roasted almond flavors. Either will be delicious in a boozy milkshake with Dutch chocolate, salted caramel, or peanut butter ice cream.

2. Crème de cacao

If you enjoy after-dinner cocktails, a bottle of crème de cacao should be in your liquor cabinet. It is one of the most versatile liqueurs for creating sweet, chocolatey drinks, particularly with ice cream. The spirit should not be confused with the creamy, thick chocolate liquor made from a mix of chocolate and alcohol. 

Instead, crème de cacao is a distilled spirit with a high sugar content and a syrupy, non-creamy texture. The crème liqueur's production includes a minimum of 250 grams of sugar per liter and various flavorings. In the case of crème de cacao, the flavoring is cacao beans. The product is available in a dark or white version, with the lighter, clear option tasting like milk chocolate and the darker version having an intense, dark chocolate flavor.

Its origins date back to the 1600s, when European monks created the spirit for medicinal purposes. It gained a following in pre- and post-prohibition America, finding a home in classic cocktails like the grasshopper and Brandy Alexander. Often, recipes call for just a touch of the liqueur, giving a subtle pop of chocolate and vanilla flavor to a drink. Though you will use only small portions, its presence is necessary for the finished cocktail, ensuring a well-rounded flavor. The liqueur won't set your wallet back much as you can find quality brands, like Bols and De Kuyper, for around $15 per liter bottle. Otherwise, your perfect pink squirrel or Bushwacker would be lacking.

3. Rum

Rum is an obvious selection to include when enhancing an ice cream cocktail. It is the base ingredient in some of our favorite frozen tropical drinks, including classics like a piña colada, frozen mojito, and the signature cocktail of Pensacola, Florida, the Bushwacker. The original Bushwacker was created at the Sandshaker Lounge in the 1970s. 

Though there is no official recipe for the drink, most include a mix of crème de cacao, coffee liqueur, cream of coconut, ice cream, and rum. The style of rum can be coconut, spiced, dark, silver, or a mix of any or all, creating a spiked frozen drink similar to a chocolate piña colada. Using ice cream in the cocktail, instead of milk and ice, ensures the cocktail has a smooth, creamy, velvety texture, ideal for cooling you off on a hot day in the Florida sunshine. 

If the ingredient list for the Bushwacker is intimidating, whirl up a batch of frozen mojitos instead. The simple combination of rum, simple syrup, and mint, with a float of lime ice cream or sorbet, is pretty to see and refreshingly delicious to enjoy.

4. Crème de menthe

For over 100 years, guests of the Big Easy's Tujague's Restaurant have been toasting coupe glasses filled with vibrant green grasshopper cocktails. The drink's creation occurred in 1918 when the restaurant's owner created the drink to enter a national cocktail contest in New York. The concoction won second place in the competition, and Tujague's patrons have enjoyed them since. 

The cocktail blends crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and ice cream, creating a frothy, frozen drink reminiscent of Andes chocolate mint candies or mint-chocolate chip ice cream with a kick. The mint liqueur gives the grasshopper its signature green color and the refreshing minty flavor. 

Made by infusing peppermint leaves into a neutral spirit before sweetening, aging, and bottling, crème de menthe liqueur's invention came in 1887. At the time, a French pharmacist named Emile Giffard was researching the beneficial qualities of the herb to a person's digestive health. He found he could extract an essential oil with an incredibly refreshing flavor by distilling fresh mint leaves. The oil became the base for his crème de menthe liqueur. He transformed his pharmacy into a distillery still run by his family today.

5. Vodka

Vodka is one of the most versatile liquors in your bar cart, elevating the flavor of your weeknight cosmo and weekend martini with a twist. Think about how much better some of your favorite vodka cocktails will be by adding ice cream. It will transform your Sunday morning screwdriver into a dreamy frozen creamsicle cocktail. It gives an espresso martini a welcome creaminess, cutting through the bitterness of the coffee to create an espresso affogato. And it will transform a classic White Russian cocktail into a heavenly adult-worthy dessert. 

The crucial element that makes vodka and ice cream such a delicious match is vodka's clean, crisp, and relatively neutral, flavorless taste, ensuring it will meld harmoniously with an assortment of mixers and ice cream flavors. It is also available in a wide variety of styles, with flavors like citrus, whipped cream, marshmallow, and more, producing a variety of tastes depending on the option you select. 

We don't advise using highly expensive vodka with ice cream. It is similar to why we don't use top-shelf vodka in Bloody Mary cocktails, as the other ingredients in the drink will mask the subtle nuances of high-end liquor. Instead, blend the drinks using a reasonably priced selection, like Tito's or Reyka.

6. Crème de Noyaux

You will surely enjoy the French liqueur, crème de noyaux, if you like the Italian almond liqueur amaretto. The production of the sweet French liqueur is similar to amaretto in that both liqueurs begin with the pits of stone fruit like apricots and peaches. The pits or kernels of the stone fruit are known as the noyaux in French. 

The flavor of the stone fruit kernels gives the liqueur a distinctly nutty, slightly bitter almond flavor. It has a delightful, sweet taste, from the inclusion of at least 250 grams of sugar per liter, and a thick, syrupy texture. In addition to the bitter-sweet, nutty flavor, we love the vibrant red color of crème de noyaux, which becomes a gorgeous rosy pink drink in the classic pink squirrel cocktail. 

The drink originated in 1941 when a Milwaukee, Wisconsin bartender first blended crème de noyaux, white crème de cacao, and ice cream to create the pink drink with chocolate, almond, and dried cherry flavors. Though some recipes swap milk or heavy cream for ice cream today, the alternate version doesn't have the same frosty richness that ice cream gives the cocktail.

7. Gin

Gin and ice cream have been cocktail companions since the 1920s and '30s. Drinks like the white cargo, mixing equal parts gin and ice cream and topping with a splash of white wine, and the Silver Stallion Fizz, which includes an old Midwestern mixer known as Silver King Fizz with ice cream and gin, were noted recipes in Harry Craddock's 1930 drinks guidebook, "The Savoy Cocktail Book." Craddock's book is still a classic cocktail bartending bible. Both recipes call for a gin style known as London dry gin due to the absence of sugars or sweeteners in its production. Using this type of gin ensures the cocktails won't become cloying or oversweet when blended.

Another favorite that will change how you drink lemonade is a gin-laced whipped lemonade made with fresh lemons and vanilla ice cream. The refreshing summertime staple will never be the same after you have had the ice cream-infused version. The herbaceous gin marries with the creamy, citrusy drink due to the liquor's mix of botanicals, including citrus and pine-filled juniper berries. The juniper and the liquor's blend of other herbs and spices, like cardamom, coriander, citrus peel, licorice, and nutty angelica root, balances the drink's sugary sweetness while melding with its tart, citrus, and milky ice cream flavors.

8. Brandy

When we think about ice cream cocktails, one of the first drinks to come to mind is the classic Brandy Alexander. The drink was a favorite of John Lennon. The Beatle was introduced to the cocktail at a Hollywood nightclub in 1974 and is said to have enjoyed the creamy cocktail for the rest of his life. The frozen Brandy Alexander cocktail includes crème de cacao, brandy or cognac, and ice cream. Bartenders blend the combination until it is satiny, smooth, and incredibly indulgent. 

Suppose you prefer something fruity instead of chocolatey. If so, we recommend swapping in brandy for the rum in a traditional piña colada to create the kappa colada. The drink includes fresh pineapple, ice cream, and cream of coconut, delivering the creamy vanilla and tropical fruit flavors we expect from a piña colada. However, incorporating the brandy into the drink gives it a layer of butterscotch, toasted oak, and spice flavors, lifting the overall palate and balancing the drink's sweetness.

9. Kahlúa

Kahlúa is a rum and coffee Mexican liqueur that originated in Veracruz in 1936, creating a bold flavor profile of predominantly dark-roasted coffee with creamy caramel and sweet vanilla notes. It is an essential ingredient in countless dessert cocktails, including the Hummer. The vanilla ice cream cocktail is known as the signature drink of the state of Michigan. 

The story goes that a Detroit bartender first blended the coffee and chocolate-flavored liqueur, Kahlúa, with white rum and ice cream to create the libation at the Bayview Yacht Club in 1968. Since then, bars and restaurants throughout the state have served their version of the icy Hummer cocktail. 

Besides the beloved drink of Detroit, Kahlúa plays a delicious part in chilled ice cream cocktails like the White Russian float, frozen espresso martini, and in a mudslide cocktail, the boozy milkshake with vodka, Irish cream, chocolate sauce, and ice cream.

10. Galliano L'Autentico

Few drinks conjure up the memories of after-dinner cocktails at our parents' laid-back dinner parties than a tulip glass filled with the chartreuse-colored liqueur Galliano. Its history dates back to 1896 when Italian distiller Arturo Vaccari began macerating and infusing 30 herbs and botanicals into a neutral spirit, creating the product. Its flavors include aromatic lavender, cinnamon, and peppermint, with star anise, juniper, cloves, and the most recognizable element, Madagascar vanilla.

With a flavor that is both sweet and savory, layering earthy herbaceous characteristics with licorice, citrus, and vanilla, Galliano is a delicious, sweet treat to enjoy on its own. However, mixing it into simple cocktails transforms the flavor, lending a luscious vanilla and anise flavor to a drink. The classic Golden Cadillac cocktail blends Galliano with white crème de cacao and ice cream for a creamy, vanilla, and chocolate-flavored delight. Though the drink is sweet, a subtle note of citrus and anise balances the flavors. Some recipes use fresh cream instead of ice cream. However, ice cream gives a luscious consistency, delivering a smooth, velvety texture.

11. Frangelico

With a similar nuttiness as amaretto, Frangelico is a sweetened hazelnut-based liqueur originating in the Piedmont region of Italy. The drink is thought to have origins dating back over 300 years to a time when Christian monks inhabited the rolling hills of Piedmont. The monks were the first to distill the wild nuts covering the region's hillsides into alcohol. The Frangelico bottle's design is a nod to this history, as it looks like a monk's habit. 

Today, fresh hazelnuts are distilled and blended with vanilla, cocoa beans, and coffee to create an aromatic, flavorful concentrate that combines with a neutral distilled spirit to make the liqueur. With its nutty, sweet mocha and vanilla flavors, Frangelico is an easy swap in any cocktail you make with amaretto, particularly a snowball. The hazelnut liqueur will add warm roasted coffee and creamy milk chocolate to the drink's flavor. We also love the spirit poured over ice cream with a shot of espresso to create a perfect boozy hazelnut affogato.

12. Bailey's Irish Cream

With its rich and creamy texture and flavors of fresh cream, toffee, mocha, and well-aged whiskey, the original Bailey's Irish Cream is one of the tastiest shelf-stable liqueurs produced today. And we aren't alone in our love for the drink. Bailey's sold its two billionth bottle in 2019, on the cusp of the brand's 45th anniversary. 

With chocolatey, malty, vanilla, and coffee notes, the drink combines Irish whiskey, Irish dairy cream, chocolate, vanilla, and a few secret ingredients that unite to create the sweet, creamy, decadent liqueur. You can simply pour a shot over ice cream or blend the two for a heavenly, rich Irish cream milkshake. However, we suggest mixing the spirit with vodka, creme de cacao, and chocolate ice cream to create the decadent death by chocolate drink. We promise it is the chocolate cocktail you must try at least once.

13. Amaretto

Meaning "little bitter" in Italian, almond-flavored amaretto liqueur is a fixture in the country's cocktails and cuisine. Its invention came in 1525, when a young woman gave a bottle to the young artist Bernardino Luini, who had used the woman as his model.

Though amaretto tastes distinctly of spiced candied almonds, the drink's production doesn't always include the nut. Instead, producers use the pits from apricots or peaches due to their rich almond flavor. The fruit's seeds and other flavorings like nutmeg, clove, and allspice are steeped in vodka or neutral distilled spirits for weeks to months, infusing the liqueur with a nutty, warm spice taste. The drink is then sweetened with burnt, caramelized sugar, giving it its rich caramel color. 

Though delicious on its own or in a cup of coffee, amaretto mixes delightfully well with ice cream, like the modern riff on a snowball cocktail. The drink mixes amaretto with milk and ice cream to create a nutty, bitter almond and sweet vanilla flavor with a creamy, luscious texture. Or, blend amaretto with fresh strawberries, ice cream, and a splash of milk for a frozen strawberry and amaretto cocktail. It is one of the best drinks to mix with amaretto.

14. Limoncello

The ultimate liquid refreshment combines citrusy limoncello with fizzy sparkling wine and a scoop of decadent ice cream to create a sweet, bubbly limoncello float. You could also blend limoncello with vodka and vanilla ice cream, creating a sweet, lemony cocktail that will make you double-guess ever ordering a lemon drop martini without including the frozen treat. Of course, you can use lemon sorbet, creating an intensely lemony version of Italy's Italy's sgroppino cocktail. However, we prefer the ice cream version, as the ice cream's richness and creamy texture balances the liqueur's sweetness. 

The production of limoncello includes the simple combination of lemon zest, sugar, alcohol, water, and time. When done correctly, the resulting drink is intensely sweet and extremely citrusy.

Though the liqueur's origin is somewhat fuzzy, with various Italian towns claiming to be its birthplace, the first trademark for the drink occurred in 1988. Even still, it has been a part of coastal Italian households for generations, with nonnas mixing up batches of the liqueur to enjoy with family and friends. It has been served as a digestif to guests after elaborate dinner celebrations dating back to the 1900s.


The basis for our listing began by researching classic cocktails and reading trusted reviews of drinks that include ice cream as the base ingredient. We then took those cocktail suggestions and tried them ourselves. As a Certified Sommelier, home bartender, and lover of sweet treats, I began blending, shaking, stirring, and frothing various combinations from classics to modern expressions — taste-testing along the way, and creating this list of the 14 best liquors to mix with ice cream.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.