Out of the ice cream shop, and into the ‘Shark Tank’

It probably wouldn't take much tap-dancing to sell most people on the notion of beer-infused ice cream.

Toss in a recipe for a Guinness Root Beer Float, and commercial appeal seems very likely indeed.

Whether either of those things gets a big financial push will be determined on tonight (Friday), when the founders of Brewer's Cow Beer-Infused Super Premium Ice Cream, based in Higganum and born in the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe, appear on ABC's reality show "Shark Tank."

"Shark Tank," in its third season, is a reality show that puts entrepreneurs in front of a panel of five investors - the "Sharks"- to pitch their product or business plan. The Sharks decide if the pitch reflects a worthwhile investment; if it is, they bankroll the project.

And they should know a good investment when they see one. The panel features the likes of Mark Cuban, owner and chairman of HDNet and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks; Lori Greiner, often referred to as the "Queen of QVC"; and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran.

This season, the Sharks offered more than $6 million in funding.

The Brewer's Cow team, Larry Blackwell Jr. of Manchester, Jason Conroy of Higganum and Steve Albert, also of Higganum, made sure to bring plenty of samples to their pitch - served in beer mugs, of course. The verdict?

"I can say they definitely thought the ice cream was good. ... We got a positive response on the ice cream," Conroy says.

Unlike some reality shows, not every contestant gets to appear in front of the panel. Conroy says it takes months of paperwork, culling and callbacks to get the opportunity to make the big pitch in Los Angeles. Not bad for three guys just starting out.

As the former owner of the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe, Albert had gradually developed his beer-infused ice cream on the premises. When Conroy took over the shop a few years ago, the two, along with Albert's longtime friend Blackwell, hatched a plan to go big with the beer-inspired flavors. Then, about a year ago, Albert contacted "Shark Tank" via the show's website.

The business operates out of Higganum now, but the ice cream shop remains the "test kitchen" where the partners dream up new flavors. When a recipe is born, Royal Ice Cream Co. in Manchester churns out the product.

Despite the ingenuity of their product, come pitch time, the pressure was on, and Conroy reports no shortage of pre-pitch jitters.

"You're pitching your company to people who are self-made millionaires and billionaires. These are people who know a lot about business, they know a lot about starting a company, and they have a lot of business knowledge in general," he says. "And that's intimidating for three guys who are basically just tinkering with an idea and hoping they can turn it into something."

Conroy can't say much about the outcome of tonight's episode, but he says the panel is crystal clear at the moment of truth.

"You know exactly what happened, because it happens right in front of you. Just like you see on TV. ... You leave there knowing exactly whether or not you made a deal," he says.

For now, curious ice cream fans can sample the goods at the Old Lyme Ice Cream Shoppe on Lyme St.; some Whole Foods stores; or straight from the Brewer's Cow website (fear not: the ice cream is shipped in dry ice). Take your pick of three flavors, made with stouts, bocks and dark ales: Black & Tan made with Guinness, Ten Penny Beer Nut Parfait, and Bavarian Beer Brittle made with Samual Adams. Coming soon: Chocolate Truffle Stout pint made with Thomas Hooker ale.

Naturally, flavors are available in a six pack (online).

Brewer's Cow debuts in four Whole Foods stores today (West Hartford and Glastonbury, Cranston, R.I., and Hingham, Mass.). The newly revamped website, thebrewerscow.com, features that intriguing Guinness Root Beer Float recipe, along with company information and ordering details.

"Shark Tank" airs at 8 p.m. on ABC, tonight.

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