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RECIPE: Have A Cow—A Black Cow (a.k.a. Root Beer Float)

How now, Black Cow? Make one and find
out. Photo by ShagPhoto | IST.


A Black Cow is another name for that popular old-fashioned ice cream soda, the root beer float. Made with vanilla ice cream, it is called a brown cow or chocolate cow when chocolate ice cream is substituted.

Today is National Black Cow Day—the perfect day to make one.

But first: How did a root beer float get such an unusual name?

Pharmacist Charles Hires introduced commercial root beer to the public in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. It was a hit, and other beverage companies went into root beer production.

The Black Cow dates to an August night in 1893 in a bustling mining town. Frank J. Wisner, owner of the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company in Cripple Creek, Colorado, also owned a tavern. He produced carbonated soda waters, popular with adults and children alike.


As the story goes, Wisner wanted to create a special drink for the local children. One night, he added a scoop of vanilla ice cream to his glass of root beer. Here’s where the cow comes in: Looking out the window, he saw the snow-capped Cow Mountain in the moonlight.

The float was an instant hit and was christened “Black Cow” by the children for the dark color of the root beer and Wisner’s reference to Cow Mountain.


This recipe can be made sugar-free (we do it all the time) with diet root beer and no-sugar-added ice cream (we prefer Breyers Smooth & Dreamy vanilla). We leave out the chocolate syrup because we haven’t yet found a good one that’s sugar-free.

Garnishing the float with whipped cream and a cherry is showy, but not essential to the flavor of the float. We generally leave it off so we can get straight to the ice cream. But if you want to use a marschino cherry, buy the best, from Tillen Farms.

Ingredients Per Serving

  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup
  • Chilled root beer
  • Whipped cream
  • Maraschino cherry

    1. Scoop ice cream into a tall glass. Add chocolate syrup.

    2. Slowly pour root beer over ice cream being careful not to let it foam up over the side of the glass.

    3. Garnish with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry—or with a flute cookie, as in the photo. Serve with a straw and a long spoon for the ice cream.
    Find all the August food holidays.


    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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