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Root Beer Float

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Root Beer Float

"Floats" redirects here. For the Dr Pepper brand of bottled beverages, see Floats (drink).

An ice cream soda or float (United States, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and East Asia), coke float or Snowball (United Kingdom, New Zealand), or spider (New Zealand and Australia),[1] is a beverage that consists of ice cream in either a soft drink or in a mixture of flavored syrup and carbonated water.


The ice cream soda was invented by Robert McCay Green in Philadelphia, PA, in 1874[2] during the sesquicentennial celebration. The traditional story is that, on a particularly hot day, Mr. Green ran out of ice for the flavored sodas he was selling and used vanilla ice cream from a neighboring vendor, thus inventing a new drink.

His own account, published in Soda Fountain magazine in 1910, states that while operating a soda fountain at the Franklin Institute's semicentennial celebration in Philadelphia in 1874, he wanted to create a new treat to attract customers away from another vendor who had a fancier, bigger soda fountain. After some experimenting, he decided to combine ice cream and soda water. During the celebration, he sold vanilla ice cream with soda water and a choice of 16 different flavored syrups. The new treat was a sensation and soon other soda fountains began selling ice cream sodas. Green's will instructed that "Originator of the Ice Cream Soda" was to be engraved on his tombstone.[3]

There are at least three other claimants for the invention of ice cream soda: Fred Sanders,[4] Philip Mohr,[4][5] and George Guy, one of Robert Green's own employees.[6] Guy is said to have absent-mindedly mixed ice cream and soda in 1872, much to his customer's delight.[7]

Regardless of its origins, the beverage quickly became very popular, to such a degree that it was almost socially obligatory among teens, although many adults did not like it. According to some accounts, it was banned, either entirely or on holy days, by some local governments, giving rise to a substitute treat, the sodaless ice cream sundae. As soda was marketed as a miracle cure, it was often considered a substance that required oversight and control like alcohol, another controlled substance that could not be served or purchased on Sundays in many conservative areas. Many soda fountains had to figure out a way to turn a profit on Sundays when selling soda was considered illegal.[8] The solution was to serve ice cream on these days, as it is merely a food product and not a controlled substance. Soda fountains then coined the term "Sundaes" for the ice cream concoctions that they served on "soda's day of rest".

Regional names

In Australia and New Zealand, an ice cream soda made with CocaCola or PepsiCola is known as a "spider."[9] Other spiders are usually known by their flavour, as a "lime spider" or an "orange spider".

In Scotland (mainly on the west coast) and Ireland, it is usually referred to as a "float." "Coke" is often used generically to refer to any cola in the United Kingdom, while "soda" is usually taken to mean soda water.

In Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia it's called Vaca Negra (Black Cow), while in Puerto Rico is referred to as a "blacao", the phonetic interpretation of "black cow".

In Alecrim, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, it's called "Sputnik".

In the United States, an "ice cream soda" typically refers to the drink containing soda water, syrup, and ice cream, whereas a "float" is generally ice cream in a soft drink (usually root beer).


Variations of the ice cream soda are as countless as the varieties of soda and the flavors of ice cream, but some have become more prominent than others. Some of the most popular are described below:

Chocolate ice cream soda

This ice cream soda starts with approximately 1 oz of chocolate syrup, then several scoops of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass. Unflavored carbonated water is added until the glass is filled and the resulting foam rises above the top of the glass. The final touch is a topping of whipped cream and usually, a maraschino cherry. This variation of ice cream soda was available at local soda fountains and nationally, at Dairy Queen stores for many years.

Root beer float

Also known as a "black cow"[10] or "brown cow",[11][12] the root beer float is traditionally made with vanilla ice cream and root beer, but can also be made with other flavors.

In the United States and Canada, the chain A&W Restaurants are well known for their root beer floats. The definition of a black cow varies by region. For instance in some localities, a "root beer float" has strictly vanilla ice cream; a float made with root beer and chocolate ice cream is a "chocolate cow" or a "brown cow." In some places a "black cow" or a "brown cow" was made with cola instead of root beer. In some areas, for example, Northeastern Wisconsin, "black cow" is said to mean a root beer float where the ice cream and root beer have been mixed together.

In 2008, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group introduced its Float beverage line. This includes A&W Root Beer, A&W Cream Soda and Sunkist flavors which attempt to simulate the taste of their respective ice cream float flavors in a creamy, bottled drink.

The origin of the name "black cow" has always been of interest to food and beverage experts and allegedly dates to August 1893[13] in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The only source of this story is the great-grand-nephew of Frank J. Wisner, who has popularized it through his soft drink product advertising.[14][unreliable source?] Wisner, owner of the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company, had been producing a line of soda waters for the citizens of the then-booming Cripple Creek gold mining district. He had been trying to create a special drink for the children of Cripple Creek and came up with an idea while staring out at his properties on Cow Mountain on a moonlit night.

The full moon's glow on the snow capped Cow Mountain reminded him of a dollop of vanilla ice cream floating on top of his blackened Cow Mountain. As he told the story later, he was inspired by this view to hurry back to his bar and add a big scoop of vanilla ice cream to the one soda water he produced that the children of Cripple Creek seemed to like best — Myers Avenue Red root beer — and served it the very next day. The drink was an instant hit. Originally named "Black Cow Mountain", the local children shortened this to "black cow".[13] Wisner was known to say many times in his later years that if he had a nickel for every time someone ordered a black cow, he'd have been a rich man.

Boston cooler

A Boston cooler is typically composed of Vernors Ginger Ale and vanilla ice cream.[15]

The origin of the term "Boston Cooler" lies in Detroit, Michigan, the city in which Fred Sanders is credited with inventing the ice cream soda. The name is a mystery, having no apparent connection to Boston, Massachusetts, where the beverage is virtually unknown.[16][17] One theory suggests that it was named after Detroit's Boston Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of what was then, according to the theory, an upper-class neighborhood a short distance from James Vernor's drugstore.[18][19] Boston Boulevard, however, did not exist at the time. The streets and subdivision that became the Boston-Edison neighborhood, approximately five miles from Vernors' drugstore, were not platted nor incorporated into the city until 1891, and its first homes not constructed until 1905, nine years after Vernor closed his drugstore.[20]

It is known that by the 1880s the Boston cooler was being served in Detroit, made with the local Vernors.[15] Originally, a drink called a Vernors Cream was served, as a shot or two of sweet cream poured into a glass of Vernors. Later, vanilla ice cream was substituted for the cream to make a Vernors float. Unlike a float, however, a Boston Cooler is blended like a thick milkshake. Both Sanders' soda fountains and Michigan-based Big Boy restaurants (which had Boston coolers as a signature item until the Elias Brothers sold their franchise to new ownership in the 1980s) used their milkshake blenders to prepare the drink.

It can be found most often in the Detroit region's many Coney Island-style restaurants,[15] which are plentiful because of Detroit's Greektown district influence. National Coney Island is one of the few restaurant chains to list the Boston cooler in its menu. The Kerby's Koney Island chain lists a Boston Cooler on its menus, but that variant is actually a Vernors Float, as the ice cream is not blended. It is also found at the Detroit-area Dairy Queens and at Halo Burger, a Flint, Michigan based fast food chain.[15]

A Boston cooler is also available on the menu at the Chow Food Bar[21] in San Francisco.


Universal Studios parks serve a concoction aptly named "Butterbeer" from the famous Harry Potter series which is a root beer and butter scotch version of the ice cream soda. Recipes for it can be found at many places online.[22]

Snow White

A Snow White is made with 7 Up or Sprite and vanilla ice cream.

The origin of this variation is unknown, but it is found in some Asian eateries.

Purple cow

In the context of ice cream soda, a The Purple Cow, a restaurant chain in the southern United States, features this and similar beverages. In a more general context, a purple cow may refer to a non-carbonated grape juice and vanilla ice cream combination.

Sherbet cooler

The Friendly's chain also had a variation known as a "sherbet cooler," which was a combination of orange or watermelon sherbet, vanilla syrup and seltzer water. (Presently, it is billed as a "slammer".)

Vaca Preta

At least in Brazil and Portugal, a non-alcoholic ice cream soda made by combining vanilla ice cream and coca-cola is known as vaca preta ("black cow").[23] Also, a better translation for this "lusophone black cow" is ice-cream-and-cola-float.[24]

Vaca Dourada

In Brazil, a vaca dourada or golden cow is an ice cream soda combination of vanilla ice cream and guaraná soda. It can be enriched with coconut or bananas.

Orange Float (or Orange Whip)

An orange float consist of vanilla ice cream and orange soda.

Beer Float (aka Shakin' Jesse[25])

Guinness Stout, Chocolate ice cream, and espresso.[26] Although the Shakin' Jesse version is blended into more of a milkshake consistency, most restaurant bars can make the beer float version. When making at home, the beer and espresso should be very cold so as to not melt the ice cream.



  • Funderburg, Anne Cooper. "Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains" (2002) University of Wisconsin Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-853-1.
  • Gay, Cheri Y. (2001). Detroit Then and Now, p. 5. Thunder Bay Press. ISBN 1-57145-689-9.
  • Bulanda, George; Bak, Richard; and Ciavola, Michelle. The Way It Was: Glimpses of Detroit's History from the Pages of Hour Detroit Magazine, p. 8. Momentum Books. ISBN 1-879094-71-1.
  • Houston, Kay. Detroit News.
  • Alissa Ozols (2008) San Francisco.

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