Harry Potter’s Historic Butterbeer

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Today, June 26, in 1997, twenty years ago, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in the United Kingdom. If that title looks wrong to you, that’s because in America it was titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because the publisher “thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word ‘philosopher’ in the title.” They may have been right, but it’s still a little sad. At any rate, in the seven novels there was something called “Butterbeer,” described as a drink that “can be served either cold with a taste similar to cream soda or frozen as a slush with a butterscotch-like foam on top.” Basically, it’s fake beer for kids. Although it’s also” described as being able to make house elves intoxicated, and having only a slight effect on wizards.” So it actually is alcoholic, although how much is uncertain.

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And apparently J.K. Rowling didn’t completely make it up. A few years ago, Food in Literature writer Brayton Taylor discovered that a recipe for butterbeer, or Buttered Beere, was part of a manuscript from 1594 entitled The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin. And all this time I’d been thinking she’d been inspired by Redhook ESB, the craft beer era’s original butter beer. Here’s the text of the original butterbeer from at least 1594:

To make Buttered Beere.

TAke three pintes of Beere, put fiue yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloues beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.

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Here’s Taylor’s modern recipe for Harry Potter Alcoholic Butter Beer:

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of British Ale (we used Old Peculiar originally but Speckled Hen is now my favourite)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ⅓ cup of brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2.5 tbsp of unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Start by pouring the ale into a saucepan. To keep it from ‘exciting’ (foaming up), angle the saucepan and gently pour the ale down the side into the pan.
  2. Stir in the 1 tsp of spices.
  3. Gently heat until it comes to a boil, before lowering the heat and simmering for a few minutes.
  4. In these few minutes, whisk together the yolks and sugar.
  5. Lower the heat even more and add in the yolks and sugar to the ale.
  6. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes and remove from heat.
  7. Stir in the butter until fully mixed in.
  8. With a hand blender, froth the ale until foam forms. Let sit to cool.
  9. Using a spoon, hold back the froth as you pour the butterbeer into the beer stein. Leave about an inch of room on the top, spoon on the froth and serve.

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And here’s another adaptation of the same recipe, from 12 Bottle Bar, although they give the date of the original manuscript as 1588.

  1. 3 pint (16.9 oz) Bottles of real Ale
  2. 0.5 tsp ground Cloves
  3. 0.5 tsp ground Cinnamon
  4. 0.25 tsp ground Ginger
  5. 5 Egg Yolks
  6. 1 Cup Brown Sugar (Demerara)
  7. 12 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  1. Add ale and spices to a saucepan
  2. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn to lowest setting
  3. Beat together eggs and sugar until light and creamy
  4. Remove ale from heat, whisk in egg mixture, returning to low heat
  5. Whisk constantly over low until mixture begins to thicken slightly (about 5 minutes)
  6. Remove from heat and whisk in butter quickly until a nice foam forms
  7. Serve warm

Notes: If you’re concerned about the alcohol level, here are some notes: We used Fuller’s London Pride, which is 4.7% ABV. Before adding the egg mixture, letting the beer simmer longer (20 minutes or so) should boil off all the alcohol, if that’s what you’re after. Use your discretion.

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