Boston Coolers Are The Ginger-Flavored Milkshake You Should Start Sipping

It's not technically a milkshake, and it's also not a float — the Boston Cooler belongs in a category all its own. For over 100 years, the Boston Cooler has served as the signature ice cream and soda shop staple for Detroit locals of all ages. The drink consists of ginger ale blended with creamy vanilla ice cream to form a deliciously spicy and sweet drink, creating a cold treat that falls somewhere between a milkshake and an ice float. And we think it's about time that the Boston Cooler breaks out of its Midwestern origins to become your next go-to summer treat.

Though its name would imply a New England origin, the Boston Cooler as we know it hails from Detroit, Michigan, and has become synonymous with the Motor City. The exact origins of the drink are unknown. However, the Boston Cooler originated in the late 1800s as a treat served at pharmacies and soda shops. In Detroit, the drink is believed to have first been served at Dr. Vernor's original soda fountain.

And as a nod to its origins at Dr. Vernor's, a traditional Boston Cooler still calls specifically for Vernors ginger ale. The brand is so closely tied to the drink that the Detroit Historical Society notes that Vernors actually copyrighted the Boston Cooler name in 1967, making the two products downright inseparable. The ginger ale is not just a cool twist, however, but essential to the drink's unique flavor profile, which combines the sharp flavor of ginger with the smooth and creamy taste of vanilla ice cream. Similar to a root beer float, the flavors lean towards the herbaceous ginger, giving the drink a bite that makes for a distinctive treat.

What makes a boston cooler

The perfect Boston Cooler starts, not with a scoop of ice cream, but with a cold pour of Vernors ginger ale. Vernors is a Michigan classic, and though not as popular as some ginger ales such as Schweppes or Canada Dry, the brand has acquired a dedicated following over its more than 100-year history. 

Vernors ginger ale is distinct from other sodas in several ways. For one, Vernors has a more intense ginger flavor than other ginger ales. The sharp taste is, well, a bit spicy, and closer to the flavor of actual ginger root. On top of this, it's particularly bubbly. In fact, because of its strong ginger flavor and intense carbonation, the soda is known to make people cough when they take a sip. Still, it's quite sweet too, featuring a slightly higher sugar content than many ginger sodas, clocking in at 38 grams of sugar per serving, compared to Canada Dry's 35 grams of sugar and Schweppe's 33 grams per serving. Additionally, Vernors ginger ale flavor has a hint of vanilla not typical of ginger ale which makes it slightly sweeter than other brands and makes it blend perfectly with the vanilla ice cream-based Boston Cooler. 

Ultimately, you should try your hand at a few different ginger ale brands when making your perfect cooler — there's no accounting for personal preference, after all —  but you might want to start with the classic.

Blending in the ice cream

Though less particular to the iconic Boston Cooler, choosing a good vanilla ice cream is still essential to crafting the drink. Many Michiganders insist that only Stroh's ice cream should be used in the drink. You may not have heard of Stroh's ice cream unless you're a Detroit local, but the brand was founded in Detroit, Michigan, and remains a local favorite.

Unfortunately, Stroh's ice cream isn't available nationwide, making it less than ideal for those wanting to recreate the drink outside of the Midwest. And though Stroh's is preferred, any good vanilla ice cream will work for a Boston Cooler, as long as you blend it well with your ginger ale. 

The real key to making a Boston Cooler is its unique consistency. A Boston Cooler isn't like a root beer float or black cow, which is a scoop of ice cream served atop a nice mug of soda. Instead, it's a blended treat that fully incorporates ice cream with the fizzy, soda base. Combining the two elements of the drink creates a texture that is just as unique as the drink's flavor. 

Regardless of what brands you choose to create your Boston Cooler — whether that's a classic combo of Vernors and Stroh's or whatever you can find at your local grocery store — just know that you're sipping on something truly special.