In a time where gummies soaked in vodka are considered party food and cakes are moistened with liquor instead of icing, it’s an obvious choice to pair two of society’s most beloved indulgences: desserts and alcohol.
They complement each other completely: rum and bananas, kirsch and pineapple, brandy and coffee cake, curaçao and oranges, bourbon and caramel. Adding booze to desserts certainly isn’t anything new. The French have dipped their cakes in rum since the 18th century.
Alcohol-infused desserts aren’t relegated to the realm of the professional chef. Homemade boozy sweets can be both simple and satisfying. Take a wheat beer or a Belgian brew in a tall glass, plop in a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a soda fountain classic with an adult twist.
Mark Sulltrop, executive chef at 44 Stone Public House, suggests starting by adding bourbon to chocolate or caramel desserts, or incorporating whiskey into coffee-infused sweets.
“Bourbon with chocolates and caramels, or Irish whiskey with coffee,” he says. “These are pairings that you know will marry well so they are a great starting point for these kinds of desserts. You shouldn’t overthink it. Remember that alcohol is just another layer of flavor.”
If you’re looking for an evening out in Columbia, these local eateries offer alcohol-infused desserts on their menus to help you finish off your night with a sweet kick.
Flat Branch Pub & Brewing
As one of Columbia’s most popular brewhouses, Flat Branch Pub & Brewing tries to incorporate its house-made brews into as many dishes as possible.
Sous Chef George Harris, who has prepared food at Flat Branch for nine years, says the Stout Brownie Sundae, which incorporates the in-house Oil Change Oatmeal Stout as an ingredient, has been on the menu as long as he can remember.
“One thing to know about stout beer is that it’s thick and it naturally possesses chocolatey and caramel notes so it blends nicely with the chocolate,” he says.
By the time you hit the middle of the brownie, the cake gives way to the oatmeal flavor left over from the dark stout, bringing a subtle hint of oats to each bite.
Although this decadent dessert almost could count as a meal itself, Harris suggests starting off with the Pub Dip, a smoked prime rib sandwich with sautéed onions and Monterey jack cheese, before indulging in the brownie sundae.
If chocolate isn’t your thing, Flat Branch offers its Crème Brûlée Bread Pudding topped with a caramel bourbon sauce. The sinfully rich dessert is composed of sourdough bread baked in a sweet cream and cinnamon sauce, served warm and topped with a crème brûlée and caramelized sugar, then finished with a bourbon caramel sauce.
“Caramel is basically just sugar, and then with the crème brûlée you have sugar with cream and butter, which are two milk fats,” Harris says. “When you add it to the bread pudding,
you get this warm middle flavor, so you can bring up the entire flavor of the dish by adding the bourbon. It gives the dish some higher notes and finishes it off nicely.”
Because this dish has a lot of fats and complexity, Harris recommends pairing it with something light, such as the Brewhouse Salad, a seasonally rotating salad.
Harris says that Honey Ale or Hudson’s E.S.B. would pair nicely with this dessert.
Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream
Unlike most boozy sweets in Columbia, Sparky’s only offers alcohol-infused desserts for customers of legal drinking age, as the alcohol obviously doesn’t cook out in the ice cream-making process.
Aaron Persky, one of the ice cream makers at the downtown business, says the Les Bourgeois ice cream, which contains Riverboat Red Wine from the Rocheport winery as well as small pieces of chocolate, is by far the most popular alcohol-infused ice cream among customers.
“You can taste plenty of the alcohol since the wine flavor really comes through,” he says. “You’re not going to get drunk off of two scoops or four scoops, but maybe if you ate two gallons in a sitting …”
Another Sparky’s favorite is White Russian ice cream, which replaces the cream in the classic cocktail recipe (mixed with vodka and coffee liqueur) with ice cream.
Other alcohol-infused ice creams rotate on the menu.
“We try different alcohols based on what we as the ice cream makers are feeling.” Persky says. “I’ve made a Nutella amaretto that I really like, and we incorporate Bailey’s very often.”
Sparky’s also makes a gallon or two of beer ice cream every week for Broadway Brewery’s dessert menu, although the ice cream can only be purchased at the brewery, not at the ice cream shop. Persky says Sparky’s owner Scott Southwick likes local collaboration, hence making ice cream for the brewery and using wine from Les Bourgeois.
“Back in his glory days, [Southwick] actually made the ice cream here and he wanted to incorporate as many local businesses as possible,” Persky says. “Even though he doesn’t make the ice cream anymore, those partnerships still stand.”
44 Stone Public House
At this European-style gastropub, Chef Mark Sulltrop manages to include alcohol in all five sweets offered on his current menu.
The cheesecake, which changes out occasionally, is composed of baked mascarpone, cream cheese and butternut squash on a walnut crust with Chantilly cream, a light and fluffy whipped cream topping. Sulltrop tops the dish with his maple-sage-rum syrup.
As at Flat Branch, 44 Stone also offers a stout brownie and a crème brûlée infused with bourbon.
But Sulltrop’s favorite, and (according to him) a crowd favorite, is Irish coffee bread pudding. This dessert includes rich coffee and Bailey’s liqueur infused into the custard, topped with Irish whiskey toffee sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.
“This seems to be a staple here,” he says. “It continues to remain popular. I would pair it with the grilled salmon, which is marinated with scotch.”
To complement the bread pudding, Sulltrop says a traditional stout, like Murphy’s Irish Stout, would pair nicely.
For those trying to incorporate booze in homemade desserts, Sulltrop encourages the attempts.
“Alcohol adds an air of mystery to the dish,” he says. Don’t be afraid to use it.”