What we tried: Mario Barbara can't eat ice cream. The heavy cream content upsets his stomach, so he was surprised when he enjoyed gelato, which is milk-based, as much as he did during a 2013 birthday trip to Italy with his wife, Leila. When they came back to the States, the Barbaras decided to leave their jobs — Mario's in the oil and fuel industry and Leila as an interior decorator — and open a gelato shop in downtown Palm Harbor.
But Leila, who is "not a dessert girl," wanted a bar. It wasn't until she poured a pumpkin stout over a fresh batch of cinnamon gelato, which Mario makes himself, that she got the idea to combine the two, and Coolside Gelato Bar's "beerlato" was born.
Now, "beerlato" makes up about a third of their business. Open for three and a half years, the shop, which offers coffee and desserts like tiramisu and cheesecakes in addition to gelato, has been serving beerlato for about two. Leila said they get business from out of state, as far as Arizona, and beer representatives from across the country offer libations to add to Coolside's rotating lineup.
Customers have a few options when choosing their beerlato. They can order a single glass, choosing a gelato flavor from the display case and mixing it with a beer of their choice. Or they can order a "landing," similar to a beer flight, made up of four gelato flavors and topped with a craft brew.
How it went: At first, I was suspicious. I like beer, and I don't mind mixing it with things — I once tried to make a Black and Tan with a chocolate porter and mimosa cider — but I was still skeptical, so my first choice was on the safer side.
I went with a nitro milk stout from Left Hand Brewing Co., based in Colorado, and chose a landing of sea salt, Obi-Wan cannoli, chocolate wasabi and coffee gelatos. Leila scooped the Italian-style ice cream into short glasses, lined them up on a platform and poured the stout across the top.
I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Most enthused about the sea salt and milk stout combination, I think I actually clapped my hands when I tried it. The chocolate wasabi tasted like a bitter dark chocolate, with a hint of spice kicking in at the end. I wanted to drain the whole glass.
After sampling all four flavors, I decided to branch out. I wanted Leila to give me anything and everything. Next, she poured Cigar City Brewing's Jai Alai IPA over a glass of sea salt gelato. IPAs are usually at the bottom of my list of beers to order, but the sweetness of the gelato cut through the hoppiness of the beer and made it a sweet treat.
Then, I told Leila to go crazy. We came up with a glass of Oreo and 50 Shades of Green (a minty flavor) gelatos and topped that with Barley Mow's Maven chocolate milk stout. After that, we moved on to lemon Italian ice topped with Peroni, an Italian pale lager. Then, an Italian rose (a wine, not a beer, but still) over the lemon ice as well.
The verdict: I didn't know what to expect when I was driving out to Palm Harbor. Was the gelato flavored with the beer already, or did I make it myself? Did they use stouts and porters, a more obvious choice, or did they use IPAs and pale ales? Would I like it? How would I conceal my face if I didn't?
In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Leila said that Coolside's "beerlato" has "converted nonbeer drinkers into beer lovers," and I can see why. The treat is like a grownup root beer float, combining the best parts of beer with the best parts of gelato to make it equal parts tart and sweet. If you're looking for something new to try with Dad this weekend, consider this for the beer-loving fathers in your life — or the ones who need a little beer encouragement from something just a little bit sweeter.
Contact Carlynn Crosby at email@example.com.