Culture

Snack Stack: Popsicles for Programmers

28 May 2022 9:00am, by
Editor’s Note: This post contains recipes involving alcoholic beverages.

Popsicles?

Hell yeah popsicles.

Whatever you called them as a kid — freeze pops, Flav-R-Ice, paletas, ice lollies — we are going to DIY ourselves some frozen fun. Popsicles, only better. Because ours are going to have booze in them. And caffeine. And candy. Adult popsicles.

The Science of Popsicles

Michelle Gienow
Frontend developer, previously at Container Solutions and Gatsby, now slinging Distributed SQL at Cockroach Labs. I love gaming, my dog, and food. Co-author of 'Cloud Native Transformation: Practical Patterns for Innovation' from O’Reilly Media.

Making boozy popsicles at home is what summer is all about. They’re cheap, infinitely customizable, and the ultimate stealth snack: you can stroll down the street or through the park, loll on the grass at an outdoor concert or movie, enjoying your delicious high-octane treats and no one will so much as glance your way.

Unfortunately, this is not as easy as just pouring your favorite adult beverage into popsicle molds. That will get you a slushy mess rather than something solid enough to eat. This is because water freezes at 32°F, while 100% pure ethanol freezes around -173°F.  The freezing point of your favorite liquor is gonna fall somewhere within this range, depending on its proof. This is why I can keep a bottle of vodka (90 proof, or 45% alcohol) in the freezer no problem but when I stick a nice bottle of rosé (11% alcohol) in there to speed chill before dinner and then forget about it, well, I just don’t use that part of the freezer anymore.

The reason your fave cocktail freezes into a slush is that, during the freezing process, the non-alcohol liquid in the drink freezes first and separates from the alcohol in the process, which is what causes that granular Slurpee texture. (This in itself is also enjoyable, and if you want to go that route you can just stop reading here and go plunk some juicy hooch in the freezer. It’s just going to take a lot longer to freeze, though — 24 hours vs three to four).

If, however, you want your alcoholic beverage to freeze into a solid and suckable ‘sicle, you need to tweak your concoction’s alcohol-by-volume (abv) down to that sweet spot where the other liquids freeze and solidify the alcohol along with them in the process, ending up in a smooth and homogeneous state.

The Magic Ratio

As a rule of thumb, the best path to successful boozy popsicles (let’s call them poptails, a portmanteau of popsicle + cocktail) calls for a 5–10% final abv in your alcohol mix. This guide assumes your liquor falls in the 80–90 proof range (40–45% abv), which means you’ll want a 1:5 ratio of liquor to non-alcohol everything else.  The “1” part of the ratio is a constant, but the “5” part can be any variable you care to assign: fruit juice, cream, coffee, energy drinks — really anything goes.

This translates to 1 ounce of liquor to 5 ounces of not-alcohol liquid in a single 6-ounce, say, vodka-lemonade pop. Then simply multiply this by the number of popsicle molds you want to fill times their volume.

Warning: Popsicles with a higher alcohol content may still freeze, but they’ll also melt a lot faster since the temperature at which they convert back to a liquid is lower. For example, a frozen poptail at 20% abv will turn into a melted mess when the temperature increases only 9 degrees. However, a 5% abv poptail will generally hold its shape until the temperature increases by 26 degrees, giving you much more time to eat it.

So the tl;dr is, you are free to try upping the alcohol ratio for popsicles with a higher boozy bang, but you should probably not be wearing your favorite shirt when you eat them.

How to Make Boozy Popsicles

Making popsicles is very straightforward: pick your alcohol and mixers of choice, measure in proper ratio, mix, pour into popsicle molds for freezing, wait awhile, enjoy.

You can DIY the heck outta the mold, actually. There are only two components: the vessel, to hold and shape the mix while it freezes, and the stick for holding it while you slurp away. The classic kindergarten craft activity of filling paper Dixie cups with juice, stretching plastic wrap over them and sticking a toothpick through the wrap into the center of each cup — completely valid. Surely you have some cups somewhere, and a drawer full of never-used disposable chopsticks from Asian takeout, and some foil or Saran wrap.

FroZips on the beach!

The easiest way, though, is to buy some popsicle molds. I used to just buy the cheapo ones at the grocery store for a buck or two, but I’ve recently upgraded to Ozera Premium Popsicle Molds (US$9.95 for a set of six). The nonstick polypropylene molds are classic popsicle shape and let the ice pops slide forth easily, yet the frozen treats adhere well to the ridged reusable sticks (which are concave to catch drips while you monch). The Ozera molds hold 96ml each, meaning that per popsicle you would want 16ml alcohol and 80ml mixers.

My newest obsession, though, is FroZips (US$12.95 for 125). Think tall skinny ziploc freezer bags because, well, that is what they are. Essentially, FroZips let you make your own adult freezy pops. The advantage is portability; since they are sealed until consumption, you can throw them in a cooler and don’t worry about leaking or falling over.  FroZips hold 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) of liquid so a ratio of 17ml alcohol to 83ml mixers gets you in that 5:1 sweet spot.

And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for: recipes!

Popsicles for Programmers

The number of possible poptail flavors is virtually infinite, but the process for assembling and freezing them is the same no matter what crazy combo you come up with.

UNIVERSAL POPSICLE INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix: Choose your recipe. Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl, preferably one with a pour spout.
  2. Fill: Fill your popsicle molds or freezer zip bags to the fill line – don’t overfill, because liquids expand in volume as they freeze and your mold will runneth over. The FroZips come with a nifty little funnel to make this easier.
  3. Freeze: Make sure you freeze the popsicles standing up. Most molds come with a stand. You need to stand up freezer zips vertically in a plastic tub or cup until they are completely frozen, and then you can store them flat.

If popsicles were programming languages, here is what they’d contain. Quantities are per single popsicle or freezer pop; multiply to get your desired number of servings.

THE JAVA: This lemonade + vodka popsicle is a solid workhorse. Basic, not fancy or exciting, maybe not even your first choice, but it always gets the job done.

  • Lemonade:5 cups/20 liquid ounces/500 ml lemonade of your choice (I really like Trader Joe’s frozen lemonade concentrate, because it’s made with sugar instead of corn syrup. Just thaw and mix with a little less water than the directions on the can say to use)
  • Vodka:5 cups/4 liquid ounces/125ml of your favorite vodka. Remember, you want something in the neighborhood of 80-90 proof.

THE PYTHON: Load up a bunch of different libraries ingredients and call it done. Or a margarita. Your choice.

  • 1 oz tequila
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice (do NOT use that battery acid in the green plastic lime)
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
  • 2 oz water

THE JAVASCRIPT: Because really, does anyone know what this is?

  • 1 can Red Bull (8.4 oz). Pour into glass and let sit until it goes flat.
  • Meanwhile, soak a handful of gummy bears in some kind of liquor. Doesn’t really matter what kind. Whatever you got.
  • Drop a few gummy bears into each popsicle mold. Mix flattened Red Bull with 2 oz of the gummy bear soaking liquor. Pour into molds on top of gummy bears. Hope it works.

THE WASM: Binary and portable.

  • 1 oz bourbon (I wouldn’t use the good stuff here, but you do you)
  • 4 oz Mexican Coca Cola (open, pour into glass, let it sit until no more bubbles fizz up)

THE GO: Highly performant and opinionated.

  • 6 oz cold brew coffee concentrate
  • 3 oz cold water
  • 2 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 oz Kahlua, Bailey’s, or other coffee-flavored liqueur (these are lower abv, so you can use a higher ratio)

Let’s keep going! I need your help, though: Rust programmers. Lispers. Where my C/C# people. Erlang. Ruby. PHP. If you were a boozy popsicle what would *you* taste like?

A monthly column, “Snack Stack,” will explore the world of culinary delights from the perspective of the software developer. Each month, Michelle Gienow will delve into the intersection between software culture and foodie culture, with histories and oddities, recommendations, recipes and other goodies. 

Disclosure: The author of this post is an employee of Cockroach Labs, which has received funding from Insight Partners, The New Stack’s parent company.

Feature photo by Albany Capture on Unsplash.