The D List: Bringing Back the Silver Stallion

Bartender Peter Jahnke makes a case for the enigmatic gin and ice cream fizz that first appeared in the late 1920s.

Gin and vanilla ice cream. In addition to being the only two items on my grocery list in past periods of unemployment, this disparate duo serves as the foundation of an odd, esoteric cocktail that gallops well outside the classic drinking canon.

The Silver Stallion started making noise in greater cocktaildom in the late 1920s when it appeared in Judge Jr.’s Here’s How!, a cheeky Prohibition-era manual. Half vanilla ice cream and half “Gordon water” (gin), topped with “Silver King Fizz,” a sparkling citrus mixer made with water drawn from Wisconsin’s Silurian Springs, the recipe is so uncomplicated it almost sounds like a joke. “No, James Branch Cabell didn’t invent this one but he should have!” reads the Here’s How! headnote, a nod to the popular American fantasy writer who released a novel called The Silver Stallion in 1926.

Peter Jahnke, bar manager of Houston’s Tongue-Cut Sparrow, became familiar with the Silver Stallion via the more frequently mined Savoy Cocktail Book, where Harry Craddock’s version appears wedged between the “Silver Bullet” and the “Silver Streak”—this time coaxed into a proper fizz with egg white, lemon and club soda. “People are curious about it,” says Jahnke. “When they see the words ‘ice cream,’ they brighten up substantially.”

Craddock’s take on the Stallion caught Jahnke’s eye as he poked around for a slightly sweet, after-dinner option to place on the menu at the 25-seat, formal-service bar. While the original recipe might read as treacly, Jahnke ultimately found that it was subtler than it might seem. “This isn’t a dessert in a glass,” he says. “[It’s] easygoing… an after-dinner, or even afternoon, cocktail.” 

The Silver Stallion is not the only old drink made with ice cream—visit Milwaukee’s Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, birthplace of the Pink Squirrel, to tour through more than 50 varieties—but it is one that took well to Jahnke’s barrage of modern tweaks. The Savoy calls for powdered sugar; he counters with heavy simple syrup. He also tops the drink with Texas’ beloved Topo Chico in lieu of rudimentary soda water and folds ground juniper berries and fresh lemon zest into the ice cream, creating a flavorful bridge between the Stallion’s two key building blocks.

The actual portion of ice cream Jahnke doles out is smaller than a golf ball—this is “not an alcoholic bowl of ice cream,” he insists—and he encourages guests to choose how they integrate it. He serves the cocktail with a brass bar spoon brought over from Japan, which guests can use either to emulsify the drink or scoop up tastes of ice cream as they sip. “Once it’s in their hands,” he says, “it’s really their game.”

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