Swooning in the super-high-butterfat (16 percent) afterglow of a double-scoop waffle cone, it’s easy to imagine Brain Freeze Creamery, which stocks the Scoop and over twodozen other joints in the region, being not the work of men but a magical spell cast by some cookie-dough-forest-dwelling satyr, or at least a sarcastic Keebler elf.
The names of their creams are playful (Cakey Doe is cake batter and cookie dough) and tongue-in-cheek (Name Brand Cookie is Oreo without the trademark). Their flavor combinations are counter-intuitive (chocolate basil) verging on the absurd (Palouse Crunch is cinnamon, almonds, honey and red lentils). And yet, like magic, it works.
They seem able to capture any flavor in the known world — Molasses Cookie, say — trap it in a frozen suspension of butterfat and air and not only keep said flavor intact but somehow enhance it.
Well, OK, Strawbarb is an attempt at strawberry-rhubarb that, down at the factory, has a reputation for “tasting like latex balloons smell.” But that’s a rare whiff, and anyway, we haven’t gotten to the factory yet.
It’s easy to imagine the road to Brain Freeze being paved with Pop Rocks (a flavor they’re working on), leading past a grove of licorice trees — rather than being strewn with broken glass, and leading past at least one hypodermic dump-site, as is actually the case.
The entrance to the factory is hidden — befitting a mystical portal — but it’s not a circular door in a gnarly oak tree. It’s a narrow roll-up in the ass-end of an engineering firm.
This un-magical doorway leads into a bay packed with freezers and supplies. From there, things narrow further, down a dairy rabbit hole into the “making” room (they don’t like the word “creaming”) so packed with machines, freezers, dry ingredients, wet ingredients and bric-a-brac that there’s barely anywhere to stand.
It is here that proprietor Tom Purdum greets you. Following your eyes around the room — you’re looking for fairies, finding none — he acknowledges your disappointment.
“Welcome to the underwhelming Brain Freeze Creamery,” he says.
Making ice cream by hand is hard. Ask Tom Purdum’s 19-year-old son, Nathan. He’s become the muscle behind the operation since Purdum took over Brain Freeze from its former owner, Jason Williams, a couple months ago.
The ingredients for the base cream are whipped up and frozen in a large machine, but all the extras — the chocolate chunks, the cookie dough, the caramel ribbons, the blueberry variegate — are folded in by hand. In the case of Muddy Cups Dirty Dishes, which only has one extra element (mini peanut butter cups) this process takes four intense minutes of stirring six gallons of ice cream frozen to the consistency of a milk shake.It’s grueling. Purdum created a de-motivational poster he hung above the machine, to add a little Dickensian flourish. It reads “You’re not being paid to believe in the power of your dreams.”
Most of the recipes come from Williams, but the Purdum clan has begun to make its mark on the creative side of the business. Tom invented the little-known Om Nom Nom (cake-mix ice cream, yellow cake pieces, graham crackers and a caramel ribbon), which one Inlander staffer refers to as “the ultimate stoner food.”
“We’ve been threatening to do a maple bacon waffle” flavor, Tom says, “maple ice cream with candy bacon and waffles.”
“And call it ‘Breakfast,’” Nathan says. They’re in the final testing stages of a salted caramel ice cream.
Asked when this might hit market, Tom looks at his watch. “Let’s see … we’ll probably have it done in time for winter,” he says. It’s their most asked-for flavor by far, but production is ramping up in the summer heat, and they only have one machine.
“There are Oompa Loompas in the night,” Purdum says. Brain Freeze’s Oompa Loompa is named Matt Davidson; he works nights. Still it’s all they can do to fill orders.
The Scoop, their largest account “by far,” has just put in their biggest order of the year. While I’m visiting Brain Freeze, Tom takes a call that might help them push business into Montana. (“All I’m saying is: world domination.”)
With all that cream to cream, it’s hard to think about research and development. At the same time, it’s hard for them not to think about. Alongside the little mockeries and bons mots the Purdums trade, they also always seem to be kicking around ideas.One problem they’re mulling at the moment is Cola and Pop Rocks, a flavor inspired by the tendency of children to chase the crackly candy with a swig of soda. Their cola ice cream, though, tastes like root beer, and they don’t know why. So they’ve struck out toward a pure Pop Rock flavor. It’s simple and sweet if a little unremarkable. “Needs more Pop Rocks,” Nathan says. His father agrees.