Chia Basinger & Sam Kopicko
Founders & Makers, Sweet Action Ice-Cream
Sam Kopicko and Chia Basinger, founders and makers of Sweet Action Ice-Cream in Denver have been avant-garde in the Ice cream revolution. They’ve created over 700 flavours (including vegan!) over the past 8 years. The cherry on the top – bless their sugar studded souls for their concept of beer ice cream! Yes, you heard it right – Beer Ice Cream. The silver lining? We at BW had the pleasure of interviewing these ice-cream entrepreneurs.
Mankind’s need for evolution is possibly the biggest boon we’ve had. Our constant thirst for of “better” has led us to perpetual discovery of the “new”. The food industry has been no exception to this change, and has over the years seen some immense modification of palates and execution of food presentation.
Since when and why did you guys decide to join the ice cream industry?
We opened Sweet Action Ice Cream in March of 2009, so it’s been just over 8 years. It was a very organic decision for us to start our own ice cream business. Honestly, we loved the neighbourhood where we lived (and still live), and it has lots of great places to go out, but it needed an ice cream shop. My partner Sam and I used to make ice cream for ourselves at home, so we figured it would be a good idea for us to start making ice cream for the neighbourhood as a whole.
How did you decide to add a beer flavoured ice cream to the list?
We started from the beginning with the idea that we would push the envelope of “traditional” ice cream flavours, and our beer ice creams were always a part of that strategy. We had two beer ice creams available on our opening night, actually – Oatmeal Stout and Vanilla Porter. First of all, we like to make ice cream flavours based on our life experiences. I used to be a bartender in my old life, so I’m both familiar with and enjoy a good craft beer – and we knew that those flavours would also make for a good ice cream. Secondly, we make an effort to make ice creams using locally grown and crafted ingredients. Since Denver is one of the world’s epicentres of craft brewing, it was a natural fit to use these quality local beers. There are so many good breweries here in Colorado, making so many good beers, it would be almost criminal if we didn’t take advantage of that.
How many varieties of beer ice cream have you come up with?
To date, we have made 72 different beer ice creams. I take particular pride in the fact that we create new beer ice cream recipes every year, especially for our Denver Beer Ice Cream Fest.
What were the difficulties you faced while brewing this ice cream?
The primary difficulty of using beer in ice cream is that it has a negative effect on the ice cream’s texture. The physical texture of ice cream has everything to do with the chemical properties of its ingredients, which are mainly dairy and sugar. When you start adding a 6-pack of liquid beer to an ice cream, you are messing with the proportions of liquid, fat, sugar, etc. It gives you a more “flaky” ice cream. We learned that it’s necessary to flatten the beer first, as taking out the carbonation will help with the final texture. But, we never cook the beer down to get a syrup, or use the wort or any “part” of the beer process. Instead we want the flavour to be true to the beer, so we never want to change that flavour by altering its form.
What is the beer content/alcohol content in a scoop?
The alcohol content is actually quite small in any ice cream scoop. We are limited by physics in how much alcohol we can use, so a person would have to eat over 15 ice cream scoops to get the equivalent of one beer’s worth of alcohol. Because alcohol lowers the freezing point of any solution, if we use too much booze for a flavour, that ice cream won’t physically freeze up right and it will be too soft for us to use. For that reason, none of our alcohol ice creams (and we use beer, whiskey, tequila, liqueurs, etc.) will get a person drunk, nor cause any impairment.
Tell us a bit about the Denver Beer Ice Cream festival?
Our Denver Beer Ice Cream Fest is an annual event, and we started doing it the first year we were open, in 2009. Actually, it was my partner Sam’s idea, and she deserves everlasting credit for it. Every year in Denver, we have the Great American Beer Festival, sometime in the fall. It’s the biggest beer convention in the United States, and possibly in the world. So, we decided to start our Denver Beer Ice Cream Fest in conjunction with the GABF – when we would put out 6-8 different beer ice creams at one time, for at least a week, and all of them would be made with local Denver beers. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we put together brand new flavours every year, and we are often using beers that are also brand new and unique, all of them made by breweries within just a couple miles of Sweet Action. Our Denver Beer Ice Cream Fest has grown a little bit bigger and more popular every year since we started it, and we now see some of the same people in town for the beer convention itself, coming to our shop year after year, just to have some of our beer ice creams.
Any recommended recipes for trying this at home?
We highly recommend that everybody starts playing with ice cream at home, whether beer flavours or not. That’s how we started, after all! For the home cook who wants to experiment with beer ice creams, there are few procedures that we recommend. First, always use good ingredients. Ice cream is a simple thing, and it requires quality ingredients. Second, when starting out, it’s best to pair a beer with an ice cream flavour, instead of depending on the beer to be the entire flavour of the ice cream. For example, start with a Chocolate Stout ice cream, instead of just a Stout ice cream. Third, it’s also helpful when starting out, to use more beer styles like Stouts, Porters, and Fruit Beers. This is because the sweeter and maltier characteristics of these beers tend to pair better with a typical ice cream flavour. Fourth, don’t forget to flatten your beer to remove the carbonation, before you add it to your ice cream mix.
Fifth, have fun! It’s beer and ice cream- what could be better? And, don’t get discouraged if your beer ice cream doesn’t come out exactly right the first time – very few ice creams are perfect, but it’s still more fun to be making ice cream than doing almost anything else.
With the steady rise of the craft beer craze, it’s all but a matter of time till we see our own little start-up selling some explosive flavours of ice cream. Go ahead and give it a try, indulge your taste buds in this exquisite creation. After all its beer and ice cream!
The alcohol content is actually quite small in any ice cream scoop. We are limited by physics in how much alcohol we can use, so a person would have to eat over 15 ice cream scoops to get the equivalent of one beer’s worth of alcohol.
By Sneha Nair, BW Correspondent