The Best Ice Cream And Soda Pairings For The Perfect Float

There's nothing that brews nostalgia quite like a soda float. The most well-known varieties of this beverage feature a frothy root beer engulfing a sea of creamy vanilla ice cream scoops. Each sip marries the frozen dessert's creaminess with the root beer's bubbly sasparilla notes. But there's more to floats than just root beer and vanilla ice cream.

The ice cream float was invented by a drug store clerk, Robert M. Green, who first scooped vanilla ice cream onto the soda he was dispensing at his soda fountain. Others postulate that Green ran out of cream at the soda fountain and started substituting vanilla ice cream. Regardless of the "truth," we assume Green would probably be rolling in his grave to see some of our favorite combinations for ice cream floats, which we've tested and tweaked repeatedly. Here are our favorite — albeit somewhat unconventional — combinations of soda and ice cream that take a twist on the classic beverage. 

Root beer and blueberry ice cream

The classic root beer float is usually made with a cold glass of classic rootbeer adorned with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream. While vanilla is a great base for the root beer, since its flavor elevates and complements the oaky, sasparilla notes in the soda, blueberry or huckleberry ice cream is also a viable option for this upgraded classic. Blueberry ice cream, particularly the type without any hunks of blueberry floating around in it, can provide a bright blast of sweet flavor that works surprisingly well with root beer. The blueberries don't overwhelm the notes of the soda, either, so you won't have to worry about your mug of A&W turning into a berry-flavored beverage. 

Huckleberry ice cream is relatively elusive in the grocery store, so we chose blueberry as our top pick. This is because huckleberries, which have a more tart flavor than the blueberry, must be wild-harvested and grow in smaller quantities than the common blueberry. 

Cherry soda and almond ice cream

Cherry soda is a more niche variety of soda, but if you look carefully among the other fruit-flavored beverages, you may be able to find it. Alternatively, you can also turn your lemon-lime soda into a cherry one by adding a splash of grenadine. This soda is relatively easy to pair with types of ice cream for a float. Our personal favorite is a mild almond or amaretto ice cream — provided that it doesn't have chunks of nut floating around and clogging up your straw. The best solution here is to make your own almond ice cream with a few drops of extract and amaretto liqueur.

The almond provides a complex undertone to complement the cherry soda, while the creaminess of the frozen dessert provides a traditional soda float experience. Adventurous sippers may also enjoy a spoonful of chocolate ice cream with their cherry soda, but this meshing of powerful flavors makes it very difficult to achieve balance in a float. 

Grape soda and vanilla ice cream

Once you try a purple cow, we reckon it will be hard to return to your traditional root beer float and vanilla ice cream combo. It's one of the best ice cream floats you can make because the grape's tartness contrasts the vanilla's creaminess very well. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of flavors that can pair well with grape, so we recommend refraining from taking the road untraveled when working with this finicky soda and sticking with a quality vanilla ice cream like Häagen-Dazs or the budget-friendly Turkey Hill variety.  

If you love the flavor of a purple cow, you'll enjoy this beverage with a bit of alcohol mixed in. Add a shot or two of your favorite vodka to the soda and garnish with whipped cream and a cherry. It's cool, refreshing, and the perfect boozy way to rethink a childhood classic. 

Orange soda and chocolate ice cream

Creamsicles are getting a facelift, thanks to the help of a good chocolate ice cream. Instead of plunking a boring scoop of vanilla ice cream into your orange Fanta, take things a step up with a creamy chocolate ice cream. What we love about this combo is that you can decide exactly how chocolatey you want your ice cream to be. A dark chocolate ice cream tends to mask more of the vanilla and orange undercurrents of the soda, while a milky chocolate ice cream will better meld with the orange flavors of the soda and bring out delightfully sweet notes. 

If you want to step up your garnishes for this beverage, try topping the beverage with orange zest, candied orange peel, and, of course, whipped cream. The only downside to this float combo is that you likely won't find the color of the beverage approachable after it's been sitting too long — but we can assure you the flavor is still great. 

Dr. Pepper and cherry ice cream

Is it weird that we think Dr. Pepper tastes like cherries? The Dr. Pepper recipe does have cherry going for it, as well as 22 other flavors thrown into a single can. It's been speculated that these 23 flavors include licorice, root beer, caramel, juniper, clover, and a ton more. This medley of flavors, which just really works when paired together, creates the perfect backdrop for pairing with ice cream. It's one of the best sodas to add to ice cream that's not root beer because it has delightfully complex notes that pair well with creamy, vanilla-ish ice creams, as well as some moderately fruity pairings like cherry ice cream. 

The reason why we selected cherry as the top pairing for Dr. Pepper is that it doesn't have a particularly strong flavor but rather a mild, sweety backdrop that allows whatever is going on in the Dr. Pepper to shine through. It's more exciting than vanilla but doesn't rock the flavor boat too much. 

Cream soda and strawberry ice cream

You may have heard of a "brown cow" and a "purple cow," but what about a pink cow? This other member of the not-so-bovine float family is made by combining sweet strawberry ice cream with cream soda. We prefer strawberry ice cream over strawberry sorbet because it has a creamier texture that meshes well with the soft vanilla notes of the cream soda. Because cream soda also has a more neutral flavor than other cola beverages, it's an ideal pairing for more complex ice cream flavors. And if your strawberry ice cream isn't berry-forward enough, consider adding a squirt of strawberry syrup to the mix. 

For example, you might consider adding a horchata ice cream, a spin-off of a spiced rice milk drink popular in Mexico. Cream soda also serves as an excellent backdrop for flavors like creamy salted caramel and butterscotch, which won't clog up your straw as you sip on your new favorite soda float. 

Pineapple soda and coconut ice cream

We're thinking of everything tropical with pineapple soda and coconut ice cream. Pineapple soda isn't as common as Coca-Cola or root beer by any means, but you may be able to find a bottle crammed in the ethnic section of your local grocery store. Since it's hard to get a strong flavor from a bland fruit like pineapple, this beverage tends to air on the side of being very syrupy. It's good news and bad news for our scoop of coconut ice cream, which tends to have either a very mild flavor or one that gives you flashbacks to the Hostess Sno-Ball. 

To ensure this pairing works, always go for a coconut ice cream brand that you trust. We like the smoothness of the Talenti gelato Caribbean coconut flavor, which we've found doesn't have the same synthetic coconut flavor as other ice creams and gelatos. 

Strawberry soda and lemon ice cream

Strawberry soda is elusive but could be spotted on online retailers like Amazon or in an old-time country store. It's refreshing, syrupy, and outpaces the medicinal notes of grape soda and the plasticky taste of orange-flavored beverages by a wide margin. We wanted to do this underappreciated soda justice, so we decided to pair it with a citrusy, bright ice cream flavor that always balances out more dominant flavors. A mild lemon will provide a zesty, tangy spin on your float and contrast the saccharine notes of the strawberry soda well. 

You can use either lemon sorbet or lemon ice cream for this float. The former will give you an icy texture that's more akin to a slushie than a float, while the latter will provide a creamy twist that's as refreshing as it is balanced in flavor. Like other frozen dessert flavors, aim for an ice cream that's just lemon; we don't want any pieces of shortbread floating around. 

Birch beer and mint ice cream

Birch beer and what? We have to start by explaining birch beer, which is not a soda everyone is familiar with. The major difference between root beer and birch beer is that birch beer is made from the oils derived from the sap of the birch tree rather than the bark. In comparison, root beer was once derived from the sassafras tree but has now been synthetically flavored. Birch beer has a crisper, more minty flavor, and a translucent color than its distant cousin. 

Although mint ice cream might seem like an unlikely pairing for this beverage, both have refreshing notes that meld together remarkably well. The major downside to using mint ice cream is that it can take on the flavor of toothpaste. We recommend selecting a mint ice cream that is mild and sweet rather than overly minty and frothy. And, leave the chocolate chips out of the equation. 

Ginger beer and mango ice cream

Ginger beer and ginger ale can be used for a soda float but must be selected carefully. Ginger beer has a back-of-the-mouth burn that the milder ginger ale doesn't have, which is why we recommend untrained palates go for the more popular ginger ale in their floats. The sharpness of both beverages works well with a complementary fruit ice cream, like creamy mango. Our go-to brand is Talenti, which carries an Alphonso Mango sorbet or the equally popular Häagen-Dazs mango ice cream. The latter is our go-to when we're craving something creamy, while the former is better for a lighter, refreshing slushie. 

Another popular pairing for ginger ale is a Boston cooler, which is made with vanilla ice cream and vanilla ice cream only. Despite its name, this beverage originated in Detroit and was made with the city's Vernor's ginger ale. You can also spike your cooler with a splash of vodka, bourbon, or whiskey. 

Lemon-lime soda and rainbow sherbert

We're going back to the punch bowl with this combination of lemon-lime Sprite soda and rainbow sherbet. Sherbet is different than sorbet because it's made with milk or cream, but isn't as rich as traditional ice cream. This quality allows sherbet to be a comparatively lighter option for a float without compromising on the rich mouthfeel. We recommend pairing the tri-colored sherbet tubs at the grocery store with a neutral lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up because the fruity element shines through. You can also play it safe and only use one of the three flavors for this float since it will prevent the flavors from muddling together into one. 

Other flavors that work well with a lemon-lime soda include anything fruity, like strawberry or blueberry ice cream. We recommend staying away from the darker flavors, like chocolate, because it can drown out the lightness of the soda. 

Coke and sweet cream ice cream

Coca-Cola is one of the most ubiquitous types of soda found on store shelves, which makes it an easy companion for a float. However, compared with others, the primary issue with this soda is that it doesn't play very nicely with more complex ice cream flavors. After all, the flavor of Coke is so well-engineered to taste perfect on its own that you shouldn't need to add any more flavors to the mix. 

It's why our go-to for a Coke float will always be vanilla ice cream or some spinoff of vanilla, like sweet cream or vanilla bean. Moreover, there are ways to customize your Coke float by using a vanilla or cherry Coke version of the beverage and pairing it with the vanilla ice cream, but there's much less play with this drink than with other soda flavors we've explored. After all, why would you mess with perfection? 

Watermelon soda and lime sorbet

Ready to pucker up? This combination will surely tingle on your tongue — but in a good way. Watermelon soda is bright and tangy, with the profile of a watermelon Jolly Rancher on the background of a sugary, carbonated backdrop. It's difficult to find in stores but can be sourced from some soda brands like Crush and Cawy. 

We found that the best pairing for this ice cream is something that is equally as bright and well-rounded, like a lime sorbet. Sorbet is dairy-free, which makes this soda combination a great option for vegans or those looking to cut back on their dairy intake. Even if lime sorbet doesn't have the same mouthfeel as ice cream, it does have a cooling effect that will linger on your tastebuds long after you finish sipping on it. Lime is our go-to sorbet flavor because it's heavy on the citrus notes, but you could also make an easy swap with a lemon base. 

Maple soda and maple ice cream

Maybe it's just a Vermont thing, but we have a soft spot in our hearts for maple soda. This soda is relatively niche and likely won't be a staple at your local grocery store, but you can order it from brands like Sap! online. The flavor is far from what you'd expect from a traditional soda. Therefore, such a mild soda needs to be paired with a robust ice cream that accentuates those maple notes. 

Our go-to pick for maple soda is maple ice cream. It's very maple-forward, which will help bring out the profile of the beverage more than sipping on it solo. But if you can't find a walnut-free maple, consider adding a scoop of caramel or butterscotch ice cream to this soda. They're both sweet and complex but not overwhelming. 

Guinenss and chocolate ice cream

Although it's not ice cream, Guinness still produces the same frothy effect as our other beloved float combinations. We recommend using chocolate ice cream for this boozy combination because it highlights the unique tasting notes of the Irish dry stout. The beer's dark color won't be altered when you spoon in a couple of pieces of chocolate ice cream into the mix and stir. We also love pairing it with chocolate because the Guinness has caramel-tasting notes, which pair well with the chocolate, rather than making the ice cream the star of the show. You might also consider adding a swig of Bailey's to the mix for an extra boozy twist. 

Chocolate isn't the only ice cream that Guinness can pair well with. Our recipe for a Guinness float includes French vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce is for added visual effect and makes this beverage best served in a clear glass.

Chocolate Stout and gingerbread ice cream

Chocolate Stout is a very mature type of beer with a very aromatic malt and dark chocolate flavor notes. Its color, as well as its complex flavor, makes it an ideal option for adding to a float with ice cream. Pairing it isn't easy since chocolate ice cream distracts from the beer's flavor, while something too vanilla would only dilute the chocolate flavor. That sets us up perfectly for our ideal flavor: gingerbread. 

Gingerbread ice cream has a surprisingly bright flavor with zingy spice, which can help balance out the flavor of the beer. In addition, the ice cream flavor is also versatile enough to handle a splash of Kahlua coffee liqueur. This flavor is only available during the holiday season, so we recommend stocking up on it to make chocolate stout floats year-round.