As the temperature soared into the mid-90s during this year’s Great New York State Fair, patrons lined up in front of Gilligan’s Ice Cream stand.
A large sign touting premium handcrafted hard ice cream enticed fairgoers as they wiped their brows with napkins and fanned themselves to the beat of music emanating from a nearby booth.
Some longed for the decadent refreshment to beat the heat, while others were hopped up to taste test Gilligan’s new frozen concoction: ice cream mixed with beer.
The grown-up treat is an offering from Gilligan’s Ice Cream, an extension of the popular Gilligan’s Island Restaurant open year-round in Sherburne, New York, with the assistance from Morrisville’s Copper Turret Restaurant & Brewhouse, SUNY Morrisville’s teaching restaurant.
Gilligan’s Ice Cream partners, Andy Lagoe ’92; twin brother, Mike Lagoe; and Gil Hodges ’92, teamed up with the Copper Turret’s award-winning head brewer, Micheal Coons, to perfect the new treat.
Gilligan’s is the first place in New York State to offer beer and hard cider ice cream, thanks to a recent amendment to a state law legalizing the production and sale of ice cream made with beer and cider. Wine ice cream has been legal for about a decade.
The legislation limits the percentage of alcohol in the ice cream to no more than five percent by volume and you need to be 21 to try it. It also requires a label that the
product contains alcohol.
So far, Gilligan’s has churned out three flavors of beer ice cream: Ice Cream Ale, made with plain ice cream and beer; Bavarian Chocolate, a mix of chocolate ice cream and beer; and Double Buzz, a combination of coffee ice cream and beer. All are made with Coons’s signature hand-crafted beer, a dark strong ale made with 100 percent New York malt and hops.
Samples offered throughout the 13-day state fair generated nods and praise, confirmation that the bitter taste of beer combined with the cold summer staple was a match made in dessert heaven. The Ice Cream Ale topped out as a state fair favorite.
“From the first bite of ice cream you know it’s beer, but it has a nice flavor and a smooth finish,” Mike Lagoe said about the Ice Cream Ale. “The ice cream’s sweetness tempers the bitterness of the beer.”
Beer and ice cream is a concept that was years in the making for the Lagoe brothers, who worked at the popular Gilligan’s hometown business many years before purchasing it in 2007. This year, they turned their focus to ice cream production and established their new company, Gilligan’s Ice Cream, along with Hodges.
The lineup of more than 30 flavors, already a hometown hit, gained popularity when the trio added beer. They turned to Nelson Farms, SUNY Morrisville’s food
processing incubator, to jumpstart their idea and tweak recipes, then enlisted the expertise of Coons.
“Micheal helped us with the technical aspects of beer and determined what would bring out the best flavor with ice cream,” Hodges said.
Gilligan’s challenge was to tackle the tricky chemistry as alcohol changes the freezing point of ice cream, lengthening its freezing time. Beer doesn’t evaporate during the process and moisture can throw off its consistency. But they were determined to get it right.
“Let’s just say there were many late nights eating beer ice cream samples,” Mike Lagoe said.
A lot of time and energy has gone into perfecting the product, whose process and recipe are a secret.
Gilligan’s owners initially went to Coons with samples made with beer from both the Copper Turret and other breweries, as well as cider and wine ice creams that they
had already been making.
“We discussed what worked and didn’t work for ice cream additions and after a lot of discussion and ice cream sensory analysis, we decided to try a few more options with beers from the Copper Turret,” Coons said.
“I was initially skeptical, but it was the existing wine ice creams that both sold me and inspired us all to try stronger, more flavorful beers, leading us to eventually work
with the 11.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) dark strong ale,” Coons explained.
“It was an absolute winner,” he said of the dark brew, rich with aromas of vanilla and oak combined with hints of fruit.
- micheal coons
“I don’t think the ice cream beer would be as successful and satisfying without Micheal’s help,” Hodges said.
Getting people to try it was the next step.
The blend of dairy and craft beer hit all of the right taste buds when it was introduced at the prestigious Syracuse Nationals car show at the New York State Fairgrounds and at Taste of Syracuse, Central New York’s largest food and music festival, and the New York State Fair where they blew through nearly 12,000 samples in two days.
The collaboration between Gilligan’s and the college is a homecoming for Andy Lagoe and Hodges, who were roommates while they attended SUNY Morrisville and worked part time at the eatery throughout school. Both graduated in 1992, Andy with a degree in liberal arts & sciences: mathematics & science, and Hodges in mechanical engineering technology.
Through the years, SUNY Morrisville had a hand in their accomplishments.
“You don’t realize that you’re building public speaking abilities, learning to engage with people and networking,” Hodges said of the skills honed in college that continue to open doors.
As attention turns to their new product, Gilligan’s Ice Cream is quickly gaining fans. This year, their regular ice cream will be sold in concession stands during the
Syracuse Crunch hockey season at the Oncenter War Memorial Arena.
And more is in the works for the flourishing business.
Just down the road from the restaurant, progress continues on a facility to expand ice cream production, a plan which could eventually lead to distribution outside of New York State and land them in freezers of superstores, drug stores and convenience stores.
As for the future of beer ice cream with SUNY Morrisville?
They plan to stick with three staples: ale, chocolate and coffee, adding seasonal flavors made with Coons’s beer. “Working with Gilligan’s has been a spectacular collaboration,” Coons said. “Developing products utilizing both beer and ice cream has been fascinating and has provided a great opportunity to learn more about a unique product integration.”
“What’s more fun than selling ice cream and beer?” Andy Lagoe asked.
“It’s beer and ice cream. What else could you want?” Coons added.