I had my first taste of a Creamsicle beer—OVB “orange cream pop IPA” from Ridgefield Park, New Jersey’s Bolero Snort Brewing—in 2016. There was no denying the poolside-summer memories that combination of vanilla and sweet orange conjured. I didn’t yet foresee that Creamsicle-inspired beers would become a full-on trend just a couple years later, with examples cropping up from Florida to Minnesota to New York to Oregon. If you don’t mind a bit of nostalgia and novelty with your favorite adult beverage, then it’s a welcome new flavor.
Brewers can use a few different tools to achieve the vanilla-orange combination. Many use citrusy hops, especially Citra, to impart orange aroma and flavor, though breweries could also use orange zest or orange extract. The addition of vanilla bean or lactose (milk sugar) or both in the brewing process creates the ice-cream impression, and your brain’s hippocampus fills in the blanks until you can practically hear the ice-cream truck’s jangly siren song in the distance.
Many of these beers are IPAs, and might be lumped in with a subset known as milkshake IPAs. Milkshake IPAs use lactose, vanilla, and fruity hops to mimic their namesake dessert. I’ve also encountered Creamsicle-inspired cream ales—which don’t actually contain cream—most recently at Missoula, Montana’s Great Burn Brewing. It was a lighter take on the style, with less hop character than you’d get from an IPA. And in a lower-ABV, less-hoppy package, the cream ale makes a better case for repeat drinking.
But whether based on an IPA or another beer style, the challenge for brewers of Creamsicle-flavored beers is the same: How do you add those ice-cream flavors and still keep the beer tasting like beer?
That question was front-of-mind for Chris Elliot, chief brewing officer at Wild Leap Brew Co. in LaGrange, Georgia. At first, he wasn’t keen on the idea of brewing a milkshake IPA, despite how many customers were asking about the style.
“I was like, ‘Okay, can I make a not super-milkshake-y, not snow-globe beer?’ I wanted to keep it a double IPA and go light on the lactose. I figured we could have it be first and foremost be a double IPA, and in the background, just have that Creamsicle note,” Elliot says. “It really didn’t take a lot of fruit to make that happen. Citra hops did most of the work.”
The beer, called Truck Chaser Creamsicle Double IPA, was an overwhelming hit, Elliott says, down to the label design, for which the brewery worked with a new artist.
“It attracts everybody’s attention, and who didn’t like a Creamsicle?” he says. “It’s worth a try for everyone. The nerds like me, we have to like it, but it also can’t be too aggressive so that the average drinker can drink it.”
Bolero Snort continues to find success with OVB as well, which it brews fairly regularly. Founder Bob Olson says the beer has gone through many iterations since it was first brewed years ago, swapping orange zest for orange peel powder—no one enjoyed zesting oranges for eight hours a day—and then eventually settling on an orange puree that provided the clearest citrus flavors. What’s consistent, though, is that time-tested orange and vanilla flavor combination.
“We’re adults and probably don’t indulge in the luxuries or fun things we had as kids, but now we can do it while also supporting our drinking habits,” Olson says. “For our brewery, the liquid is incredibly important—both flavor and quality—if we say it’s going to taste like a Creamsicle, it better taste like a Creamsicle and give you that flashback memory.”
Though Olson refers to OVB as a Creamsicle beer throughout our conversation, he does include an asterisk to that: The beer is, technically, on its label, an “orange cream pop”-inspired beer. He received a cease-and-desist letter from Unilever, which owns Popsicle, and happens to have an office near Bolero Snort’s brewery. The letter informed Olson that Unilever owns the trademark to any food and beverage product that ends in -icle. Sorry to burst the bubble of anyone currently working on the next great Fudgsicle IPA.